Life is priceless but you still have to pay the medical bills with CNBC’s Sharon Epperson

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Sharon Epperson survived a brain aneurism. But despite being one of the country's top personal finance experts, and having all the right plans in place, some of the experiences with the finances of her medical emergency still caught her off guard.

In Sharon's money story you will learn:

  • The plans she put into place early on that helped her when she ended up in the ER from a brain aneurysm

  • The importance of having an emergency fund

  • The financial set back she experienced once she was out of the hospital

In Sharon’s money lesson you will learn:

  • The importance of money saved

  • Why it's so important to have an estate plan

  • Having adequate medical insurance even when you feel like it's so expensive

  • Why she's so grateful to have disability insurance

In Sharon's everyday money tip you will learn:

  • Know financially where you stand financially. Check your alerts every day on your phone

In My Take you will learn:

  • Do the paperwork in case of a medical emergency, specifically a living will

  • If you aren't in a mental state to fully understand what you are signing, wait until a loved one gets there

Episode Links:


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Transcription

Sharon Epperson:
I remember lying on the stretcher at the Rehab Hospital having just been brought in, and handed a clipboard with paperwork. No one who has suffered a brain injury, should be handed a clipboard of paperwork and a pen for anything.

Bobbi Rebell:
You're listening to you Financial Grownup with me, certified financial planner, Bobby Rebell. Author of How to be a Financial Grownup, and you know what? Being a grownup is really hard, especially when it comes to money. But it's okay, we're going to get there together. I'm going to bring you one money story from a financial grownup, one lesson, and then my take on how you can make it your own. We got this.

Bobbi Rebell:
Hello financial grownup friends. This episode is an uncomfortable one. I had a really tough time approaching the topic because it's really sensitive. It's really hard to ask the stuff that I ask our guest about. First, a quick welcome note to everyone, our new listeners. Thank you for coming and checking us out. If you enjoy the show, please tell friends. That is the best way for us to grow the podcast, and keep bringing it to you. To today's guest, CNBC's senior personal finance corresponded, Sharon Epperson was really gracious and open in this interview. She has already talked extensively about the brain aneurysm that she suffered a couple of years ago, and about her recovery. But she agreed to venture into an area that is really taboo, and that is asking what do things cost in an emergency? And what can you do to control the cost in an emergency? Because you can't exactly shop around and you may just get the biggest bill of your entire life. So the stakes are really high. Here is Sharon Epperson. Hey, Sharon Epperson, you're a financial grownup. Welcome to the podcast.

Sharon Epperson:
Thanks so much for having me.

Bobbi Rebell:
We met recently at the taping of Secrets of Wealthy Women. I can't believe we didn't know each other before. I don't think we overlapped at all, but I'm a CNBC alum and you are the personal finance correspondent for CNBC.

Sharon Epperson:
I am.

Bobbi Rebell:
You are named 2018, one of the 12 to watch in TV news. You also have a bestselling book, The Big Payoff; Eight steps couples Can take to make the most of their money, and live richly ever after. Congratulations on all of that. And you are also deeply affected by a horrible medical tragedy. You had a brain aneurysm in 2016, and you've been very candid talking about it. I want to encourage everyone, I'm going to leave links to hear the full story because it's important that people hear everything that happened to you. How it happened, how you've dealt with it and everything. But there's one area that for this short show I was actually afraid to ask you to even talk about, and you were so gracious when I sent you this email because it's an important part of what happens after the fact.

Bobbi Rebell:
Can you us, in your money story, about the brain aneurysm? How it happened, but then as I said, and this is hard to talk about, the money aspects of it, and what happened on the financial side while your life is ... We don't even know what's going to happen. You're fighting for your life, and after the fact the money is discussed. Tell us your money story. Sharon.

Sharon Epperson:
I one day went to exercise class and then did not come home again for a month. I'm the person that handles the bills, the daily expenses in my family. All of that pretty much came to a full stop when I was in the hospital. The things that saved us are one, we are both, my husband and I, employed by companies that have medical insurance, and comprehensive coverage. And I was under his employer's insurance actually, and had really great medical care, and was not really conscious of how expensive the bills were for what I had done in a 24-hour period. I do know that I saw more than 50 or 60 medical professionals, and I was in three different hospitals. I remember going to the doctor's office. I remember my husband taking me to the ER. I do not remember much after that, other than the ER doc saying I had bleeding in my brain and calling my sister who lives out of town to tell her that.

Sharon Epperson:
And then I was pretty much unconscious. I remember being in [inaudible 00:04:25], before the anesthesiologist put me under. So anything that happened, all of the decisions that had to be made, financial, medical, everything, in the period of time, but pretty much from the time I left the doctor's office till they decided I had to have this type of emergency and surgery and the particulars of that. I had no involvement. So, I wasn't doing what I usually do [crosstalk 00:04:45]. Before I have a procedure or I take my kids somewhere, I call the insurance company. I say, "Is this covered? Do I ... Have I met my family deductible? What do I have to?" So I know ... I'm a budgeter, so I'd know how much I'm going to be spending for the orthodontia, and the and the other things that I've ... medicines and all that, that I have had over the years with my children.

Bobbi Rebell:
So what happens in this situation? Because this is by far the biggest medical spence you hopefully, God help us, will ever have in your life.

Sharon Epperson:
Exactly. It played out in real time in real life, in my medical emergency. My sister was the first call that I made. She was on the next train from Washington, D.C. to New York, and she was present before I went into surgery. So, all of those decisions, my husband and my sister conferred together and made for me, for my care. Ultimately the paperwork that I assumed was signed, that I wasn't able to sign that says, you got to pay for this if your insurance doesn't cover it, my husband has signed for that too. So, all of those financial medical decisions were made by them for the first month, I would say, after I had my aneurysm.

Sharon Epperson:
I will say that I was actually the one, when I went from by ambulance from the first hospital to the Rehab Hospital two weeks after my surgery, I remember lying on the stretcher at the Rehab Hospital having just been brought in, and handed a clipboard with paperwork. No one who has suffered a brain injury should be handed a clipboard of paperwork and a pen for anything. I mean, I'm still floored that that happened, and I think I had more faculties than probably a lot of people at that may have. But I went through a period, and I actually still do, where I have someone, I kind of run by most of my financial decisions and things by somebody just for a gut check sometimes. and also just for a double check if I've missed anything in the fine print. And I think he later was consulted and everything worked out insurance wise, thankfully, with that hospital as well. But I definitely signed paperwork on a stretcher. That was not cool.

Bobbi Rebell:
No, it's not cool. And I have read recently of some hospitals, one in particular that I'm thinking of and I will put the article in the show notes, in California where it is presumed most hospitals are "in network." But this hospital is not and it is a major trauma center, and people get brought to hospitals and then they believe, because most hospitals are "in network" that they will be covered under whatever their insurance plan, but that's not always true. You really at this point, this is life or death. You're not in control of these decisions and the financial decisions that do come afterwards.

Sharon Epperson:
You are asked to be in control of them. The other memory that I have is when I was in the first hospital, the social worker came and asked me what type of facility I wanted to be in next. I didn't at the time, didn't have enough information really to even know exactly what had happened to me, or what the difference between the sub acute and acute facility was. They just both sounded really scary, and I just started crying. Because it just sounded like, I was slowly figuring out that what had happened to me was extremely serious. But in that discussion, I think the ones that she suggested, as I recall, she did mention were covered under my insurance, but it wasn't necessarily ... I don't remember if I asked it or if she just told it to me.

Sharon Epperson:
But again, to your point, you're suggesting places based on medical care, or proximity to my home, but not necessarily based on what's covered or what's covered more fully. And these are questions that need to be asked, but I was by myself when I was approached.

Bobbi Rebell:
Right? And that's a very financially vulnerable position to be in because your life is at stake, and your life is what matters, but yet you are ... Other people very often are making decisions for you or asking you to make decisions that you are not in a position to make at that point, that will have huge financial consequences when you get better. For example, I wonder how it worked with all the various tests that they did, and other specialists that they're bringing in. Did somebody look and say, "Do you want someone in plan?"

Sharon Epperson:
That absolutely happened. I remember having to have a call with the insurance company about a specialist who was in the ER. I don't remember what exactly the test was that I had, and specialist was not in the same network exactly. And I had to appeal, and say that I was unconscious, had no ability to say yes or no to this test. It was a test that had to be done because I was literally at a near death situation. And once I explained it, it was taken care of. But again, you are critically ill, you've slowly recovered and you're not near yourself again, and you're confronted with having to deal with insurance companies who are second guessing what you had no control over. The main focus of my family was making sure I stayed alive, and get the best medical care possible.

Sharon Epperson:
And they were not thinking about the financial situation at that particular time. And certainly were not trying to make sure that every specialist that I saw was in the network. And I'll probably also just assume that if the hospital is in the network that the specialists would be in the network in the same way, and that's not always the case.

Bobbi Rebell:
So, what is your advice now in hindsight to our listeners, should they ever be in an emergency situation and face financial decisions, or then not face them until the emergency is over?

Sharon Epperson:
The thing that is so very important is to make sure that you have a plan, an estate plan ideally. And some people say, "I don't have an estate. I have no money. Why do I need to have an estate plan?"

Bobbi Rebell:
It's kind of mislabeled the word estate.

Sharon Epperson:
Exactly. You need this to have people in place who can help you with decisions that you're unable to make. And you can do that verbally with family members and just say, "If anything ever happens to me, I want you to be the one." But that's not what's going to hold up necessarily at a hospital or definitely not in a court. So you want to make sure that you have it in writing, and that you have the legal documents necessary for power of attorney, for health care proxy, for financial and for medical decisions to be made. And the other thing I guess I would say is to make sure that you have medical insurance, and when you're an independent contractor, self employed, have your own business. I know it's expensive, it's really difficult to figure out, but it's so very important to make sure that you have adequate comprehensive medical insurance.

Sharon Epperson:
And I'll add one more. There's four things I'll say and that's disability insurance. Again, extremely expensive if you're self employed, but you are protecting your income. You are protecting the greatest financial asset that you likely have, which is your ability to work and make money.

Bobbi Rebell:
And what about dealing with the finances in a medical emergency? What's your takeaway there?

Sharon Epperson:
If you can, I would say, "I'm waiting for my ..." whomever that power of attorney or that person you've designated, "to come. Can we have this conversation when my husband, loved one friend, caregiver, someone is there with me?" And I know for many people that might be hard. Also, I had a friend who's really good and really technical, and really organized and is really good at harassing people to make sure that she gets her money, and she helped me with a lot of my bill paying and the discussions I had to have with insurance companies. So, it's hard to do by yourself. It's very, very difficult and I had people, thankfully in my network.

Sharon Epperson:
There are also agencies out there that will help. That help caregivers are that help people in terms of being your advocate for healthcare issues, but it's just hard to know. And Bobbi, you may know better, who can you trust? You do your [palase 00:12:21] and core [Barre 00:12:22] class, and you ran the marathon, and you did this and you eat ... you drink this spinach smoothie. I had a spinach smoothie and an hour later I had a brain aneurism. So, you never ever ... in an exercise class. So, you never ever, ever know what can happen and when it can happen, and so having that conversation, it's not a downer. It's I'm going to be in the strongest possible position for the rest of my life.

Bobbi Rebell:
All right, let's switch gears to a more uplifting topic, and that is your everyday money tip, which no one has ever said I believe on Financial Grownup and yet it is something we can all do that will really help us on a day to day basis.

Sharon Epperson:
You have to know where you stand financially before you can plan on where you want to go. And so, I set up alerts through my bank, text alerts or email alerts on how much money I have in my account on a daily basis. Whenever I go over spending $250, when I have a bill that's paid that's over $250 from my account. All of these alerts come into my phone, so my money tip is to everyday check in. If it makes you crazy to do it every day, do it every week. But I check in every day, because I get an email on my phone that let's me know how much money I have to spend.

Bobbi Rebell:
Great Advice. Before I let you go, I just want to talk briefly about your efforts to raise awareness, and to advocate for more research about brain aneurysms. You established the Sharon Epperson share of research through the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. It provides grants for research on early detection. Tell us a little bit more about that and how people can support that effort.

Sharon Epperson:
I am the fourth generation of my family members to suffer a brain hemorrhage. And so while I don't know for sure if the brain hemorrhages of my great grandfather, grandfather, and my mother's eldest sister was caused by a brain aneurysm, I know it's very likely that that is the reason why I suffered one. And brain aneurysms are more likely to impact women than men, and twice as likely to rupture in African Americans than in whites. And so, as the mother of two children, who I'm not sure yet whether they are going to be completely healthy or may have a brain aneurysm, I want to make sure that the best technology, the best strategies for treatment, and for dealing with this are available to them. And so I'm supporting the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, which is at the forefront of raising money for research for brain aneurysms. And of lobbying in Washington to increased federal funding for this type of research also.

Sharon Epperson:
So, I would urge people to go to beafound.org to learn more about what happened to me, and what research is being done. And also to support the Sharon Epperson share of research so that more research dollars can be given to very, very, very smart researchers and medical professionals who are coming up with cutting edge, innovative treatments and strategies to deal with this.

Bobbi Rebell:
Well. Thank you for all of your efforts. And finally just share with us your social channels and where people can learn more about you and follow all of your endeavors.

Sharon Epperson:
You can follow me on Twitter @Sharon_Epperson S-H-A-R-O-N_Epperson, E-P-P-E-R-S-O-N. I'm on Instagram at Sharon Epperson, CNBC. You can also reach out to me on Linkedin or Facebook, on my Facebook page. And I love to connect with viewers, and readers, and listeners and know what your money stories are. I love your show. I love what you're doing because the more that we talk about this, none of this is taboo. We all have something. We all have something that we're dealing with there were going through, or that we have gone through. And by sharing with one another the ways we've coped, things we've done well and things we have not done well, I think it helps everyone. So, I urge people to reach out to me, and I thank you so much for inviting me to be on your show.

Bobbi Rebell:
Thank you so much for joining us, Sharon.

Sharon Epperson:
Take care.

Bobbi Rebell:
Okay, my friends, Financial Grownup tip number one, do the paperwork in case of a medical emergency, specifically a living will. That is, a written statement saying what you want in terms of medical treatment if you cannot give consent, like Sharon. Financial Grownup tip number two, if you're in a medical emergency and someone is thrusting forums at you, as was the case with Sharon, and you are not in a mental state to fully understand what you are signing, tell them that. Tell them that you need to wait until a loved one gets there. Tell them the reason. That you are not fully able to understand what you are signing. And if you do sign under duress and it comes back to haunt you, consult a lawyer. What happened to Sharon as she says is not okay.

Bobbi Rebell:
Thank you as always for joining us. I am blown away by the incredible gift that Sharon has given to all of us, and I want to hear from you what you think, and what kind of experiences you have had with medical bills and emergencies. DM Me on Instagram at Bobbi Rebell1, and on Twitter @BobbyRebell. You can always email me at hello@financialgrownup.com and please do share the podcast with friends. That along with ratings and reviews possibly on Apple iTunes are the best. And by the way, I have a new additional podcast I'd love for you guys to check out, it is called Money in the Morning with my cohost Joe [Saulcihi 00:17:35]. We talk about news headlines and why they matter to you.

Bobbi Rebell:
All right, big things to Sharon Epperson for helping us all get one step closer to being financial grownups. Financial grownup with Bobbi Rebell is edited and produced by Steve Stewart and is a BRK Media production.