The financial strain of special needs

Jun 29, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. ET

When your child has a disability, the last thing you want to think about is money. Unfortunately, medical bills can quickly pile up when children have special medical needs. Learn how to manage your finances and get help when you need it.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 40 percent of families of children with special health care needs experience a financial burden because of the child’s health condition. When dealing with various disabilities, families often need to seek expensive, ongoing medical care and therapies. Some kids need medical equipment and assistance in the home. Learn how to manage the financial strain of special health needs.

Apply for financial assistance

The government offers financial assistance for some families with children with disabilities. Depending on the severity of a child’s disability, the family may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. Learn more at the Social Security Administration. Many states offer programs to supplement income and provide low-cost health care for children. Search for state programs at the Administration for Children and Families. Look into your individual state’s programs and talk to the local Department of Education about evaluation and therapy resources available through the school system.

Adjust your lifestyle and get creative

In addition to using resources to lower your health care costs and receive additional support, you must carefully look at your family’s finances. If possible, use an accountant or financial planner to help you target debt and keep your family in the clear. Adopt frugal habits and tight family budgeting.

Get creative with fundraising to support your child, including garage sales, bake sales and outreach in your community. Look for sponsors for medical equipment and set goals, such as organizing a 5K run to sponsor a specific item your child requires.

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Work with health care providers

Soon after Jaimie Marzullo gave birth, her newborn daughter suffered a sudden, massive brain hemorrhage. Her daughter, now 9, is a healthy little girl, but the financial impact of her first months of life put the Marzullo family in debt for six years. Marzulla suggests being tenacious with hospital billing offices. “You can call billing offices and ask to negotiate down to insurance company or Medicaid rates,” she says. “It can be a significant difference.” When dealing with your health insurance company, use a patient advocate and don’t trust the first or even second answers you get. No one is going to try to save you money unless you push. Talk to your hospital about payment plans and don’t hesitate to share the details of your family's financial situation. Many medical institutions offer financial assistance if you seek it aggressively.

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Accept support from loved ones

Support comes in many forms. When you’re struggling with financial problems and a child’s health concerns, you need more than money to get by. Let your friends and family support you whenever possible, whether it’s babysitting, a play date, having a few meals delivered or simply a loving sounding board to vent your frustrations to. When financial issues are causing strife, it’s more important than ever to have emotional support. Don’t be afraid to say that you’re overwhelmed and scared. Seek support in your community and online by reaching out to other parents who are in similar situations.

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