When people are facing an emergency, they instinctively turn to the protocol they learned while growing up to make sure they’re safe. Hurricane or tornado? Close the windows and duck and cover! Earthquake? Duck and cover! Health care emergency? …Duck and Cover? Do you have an emergency plan for your health care? Seeking and maintaining care can be more complicated than learning to run from a burning building or duck and cover during a tornado, but HIP challenges you to think about your health care needs now and know how you can ensure they’re met during a natural disaster or emergency. Read through these steps and make a plan; don’t wait and scramble during an emergency. Thinking through these steps will help you build a new protocol for emergencies.
Know where your health care documents are (better yet have a mobile version)
After many natural disasters or emergencies, you will be able to stay in your home with your belongings and personal documents, but not always. It’s a good idea to have all of your health or personal documents in one place that can be easily taken with you in an emergency. For most of us, this shouldn’t be an issue because we have our prescriptions, health records, and medical bills available electronically. If you aren’t in this category already, take this as your reminder to opt in to electronic billing with your insurer and doctor. You should also write down the name, dosage, and prescribing doctor on the medication you take on a regular basis.
Important documents to have with you:
- Insurance card
- Copies of your prescriptions
- Name & contact information for you primary care doctor or other prescribing medical professionals (like a psychiatrist)
*If Necessary: Write down as much health information as possible. Although digital health information is critical and truly the future of our healthcare system, in an emergency you may not be able to charge your phone or access Wi-Fi. If you are expecting a serious natural disaster in your area, write all of your health related information down.
Take all of your medication with you
Although it may seem obvious, in an emergency you’ll likely be flustered. If you are evacuating your home, take all of your medication with you. If possible, keep all the medication in the original bottles and do not transfer to pill boxes or bags. If you need a refill for some reason during an emergency, it may be helpful to have the original bottle or box with dosage and prescribing information.
Don’t forget about the medication you may take occasionally but not a regular basis — asthma inhalers or nebulizers, migraine medication, Epi-Pens, etc. (These might be especially useful during high stress situations).
Health Insurance Payments & Coverage
During a natural disaster or other emergency, it may seem like the whole world is on pause. But, most of the world will be going about regular business — including the people who collect your monthly insurance premium payment or the latest payment on a medical bill. There are policies in place in most states to delay premium collection and deadlines for medical bills, but the best way to handle this issue is to call your insurance company directly (this number should be on the back of your insurance card).
Beyond premiums and medical bills, natural disasters might cause you to relocate and need care from doctors who aren’t in your network. Seeking care from out-of-network providers can lead to increased costs for you. Check out the Georgetown Center on Health Insurance Reform (CHIR)’s blog for more information, “In the Aftermath of a Natural Disaster and Have Questions about your Health Insurance Coverage?” They explain how your health plan might cover out of network care if you aren’t able to see a provider in your network:
“In emergency situations, the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to provide coverage for out-of-network care and prohibits insurers from charging higher coinsurance or copayment amounts for out-of-network care than for in-network care. The ACA, however, does not prohibit medical providers from billing consumers the “balance” of their charges after an insurer pays a portion of the charges. Some states have protections against this “balance billing,” in emergency situations including Florida, which prohibits medical providers from balance billing consumers when they receive emergency services by an out-of-network provider.” Read HIP’s post on balance or surprise billing here.
If you have questions about receiving out of network care, your best bet is to call your insurance company.
Making a plan for health care in emergencies is a great step to becoming healthcare-inclined. Just as we had to be taught to instinctively stop, drop, and roll it’s important to build protocol and habits for high-stress times. Knowing where your health-related documents are and being able to snap into action at a moment’s notice will help you and others in times of need.
- Make a health care plan for emergencies
- Keep health-related documents in a central place or keep them digitally (insurance card, primary care doctor, medication with dosage and prescribing doctor)
- In an evacuation, bring all of your medications with you in their original bottle or box
- Call your insurance company to discuss potential late payments or to seek care outside of your network during an emergency