Is financially preparing for a chronic condition possible?

Sixty percent of Americans (150 million) are living with at least one chronic condition such as heart disease, COPD or HIV/AIDS.1 Diagnosis of a chronic condition is a time of great upheaval as an individual and their family members come to terms with it. As a result, they experience many emotional, physical and financial struggles.

The initial focus revolves around understanding the condition as well as the best plan for managing it. Once they come to terms with their condition, patients and caregivers start thinking about the logistics and finances. Ninety percent of national health care spending is on expenses related to living with a chronic condition.2

Understanding the health and financial toll of a chronic condition

The health and financial well-being of an individual are highly intertwined. Many find it hard to separate the two and instead describe them as mutually inclusive, where stress from one reinforces the other. This cycle challenges patients as their conditions heavily impact their finances, creating stress that has a negative impact on their health.

In an effort to better understand these struggles, Optum Bank® conducted in-depth interviews with individuals living with a chronic condition. We identified the following challenges:

  • Medicals costs are unpredictable, adding to stress of the unknown and making it difficult to financially plan and save.
  • Resources are difficult to find. Patients and caregivers spend a lot of time searching for these resources and miss out on valuable opportunities for assistance.
  • Health care paperwork is confusing and requires time, making it hard for patients and caregivers to understand and navigate these systems.
  • Prioritizing finances and saving for the future are difficult when patients are already juggling other expenses, leaving them struggling to survive financially.

To support these challenges, Optum Bank identified several tools that can help patients and caregivers reduce the financial burden of their chronic condition.

Challenge: Medical costs are unpredictable.
Solution: A cost estimator or medical expense predictor can help patients and caregivers understand costs of health care and plan for expenses.

Challenge: Resources are difficult to find.
Solution: A resource connector categorized by condition could connect patients to available resources.

Challenge: Health care paperwork is confusing and requires time.
Solution: An insurance agent or advocacy program could help patients navigate finances, assist with paperwork and make phone calls on their behalf.

Challenge: Prioritizing finances and saving for the future are difficult.
Solution: Patients could benefit from access to tools for increasing their savings and decreasing monthly expenses. Access to a health savings account (HSA) when the individual has a qualifying highdeductible plan could help patients set aside money for costs related to qualified medical expenses. A financial advisor would help patients uncover strategies for saving and investing, decreasing monthly expenses and finding more ways to earn income.

Participant case study: Caregiver leading a busy, fractured life

Our in-depth interviews helped us uncover the emotional, physical and financial hardships that patients and caregivers face. Mary is just one example of how a chronic condition can drastically change a family.

Mary has been her mother-in-law’s caregiver for almost five years. Her days are long and exhausting. She divides her time between working as a teacher, spending time with her husband and son, and managing her mother-in-law’s health and finances.

Over the past five years, caregiving has taken an extreme emotional and financial toll on her family. She now devotes more time to caregiving and pays for a number of her mother-in-law’s out-of-pocket medical expenses. As a result, she now spends less time with her family and has trouble saving for her son’s college education.

When thinking about her role, Mary said, “I am everything. I am a nurse, a psychologist, a wife, a mother, a teacher, etc. I’m wearing a lot of hats right now, and it’s rough. I feel like it’s aging me.”

To help relieve some of the financial and emotional strain caregiving has had on their family, they’ve decided to merge households. They hope this merge will allow them to spend more time together as a family and cut down on monthly costs.

Preparing for a chronic condition

Nobody can truly financially or emotionally prepare for a chronic condition. Taking steps to proactively save money early in life — such as opening an HSA account — is among one of the surest ways to take ownership of one’s health and finances.

Optum Bank strives to help consumers understand what steps they can proactively take to prepare themselves for such a diagnosis. Read our white paper to learn more about this emotional topic and how you might help your employees be better prepared.

About the author:

Deb Culhane
CEO of Optum Financial Services, President of Optum Bank

Deb oversees Optum Financial Services (OFS) products and provides leadership for Optum Bank. She ensures that all OFS products deliver financial services expertise to every point in the health care system through consumer health accounts, payment solutions and stop loss insurance. Deb brings more than 30 years of industry experience in institutional and consumer financial services both domestically and internationally.

1. RAND Corporation. Chronic conditions in America: Price and prevalence. July 12, 2017. Accessed July 26, 2019.
2. CDC. Health and economic costs of chronic disease. Updated Feb. 11, 2019. Accessed July 26, 2019.


Health saving accounts (HSAs) are individual accounts offered or administered by Optum Bank®, Member FDIC, and are subject to eligibility requirements and restrictions on deposits and withdrawals to avoid IRS penalties. State taxes may apply. Fees may reduce earnings on account. The content of this communication is not intended as legal or tax advice. Federal and state laws and regulations are subject to change.

Leave a Reply