My $28,000 Financial Mistake (And One You Can Easily Avoid)

On a warm summer morning in June 2009, I awoke to a slight ache in my right kidney. This didn’t alarm me too much. I had felt kidney aches before, and this just seemed like another small episode, easily resolved with my usual remedies. Besides, I was concluding the first year of my MBA and had earned a great internship. It was time to work and impress!

Before heading into my costly MBA program, I was looking to save money anywhere I could. Given my pre-existing health condition, I had applied for health insurance, but was denied coverage (this was pre-Affordable Care Act), so I made the decision to push through my MBA without health insurance, and get re-insured again through my employer as quickly as possible upon graduation.

What could go wrong?

But as the days progressed since that morning kidney ache, my health became worse. The typical remedies I used to “solve” a problem like this weren’t working. I was getting sicker.

But instead of going to the hospital, I foolishly pushed on. In my uninsured state, I didn’t feel like I could afford the price of a hospital visit, not to mention the tests that they would put me through, all of which would have to be paid out-of-pocket. And imagine the cost of being hospitalized or operated on! I just couldn’t do it.

My condition became worse and worse, to where I was missing class and still not seeking treatment. My roommate, realizing the urgency of the situation and my own stubbornness, literally dragged me to his car and drove me to the hospital. I remember blacking out just before entering the ER.

Several days in the ICU and remarkable urgent care given by a highly-skilled medical staff resulted in one saved life, and a final bill of $28,000. This is small compared to some emergency stories I’ve heard of, but it was still a financial disaster to me.

Me with my "kidney cake", compliments of a good bunch of life-saving roommates.

Me with my "kidney cake", compliments of a good bunch of life-saving roommates.

Life presents an abundance of challenges and potential disasters, many of which cannot be avoided, while others, like mine, can be. Your aim should be to protect yourself and your family against those things which could do the greatest harm, regardless of the short-term financial consequences. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” My foolish decision to push through my MBA in poor health without health insurance resulted in serious long-term financial pain, but it could have been much worse--a loss of life.

Putting the right safeguards in place to avoid catastrophes is one of the smartest financial decisions I can think of. It’s not just about health, life, or disability insurance (though these are extremely important), but also building up your emergency savings in case of a high-deductible health expense or lost job, or investing a small amount of money each month towards your retirement or declining health in your senior years.

If anything, consider what your potential “$28,000 mistake” could be and take 30 minutes this week to make a plan with your spouse to protect against it.

I’m fortunate to be able to help my clients do this everyday. If you’d like professional help putting a plan in place, please contact me.