What price do you place on your health?
What is your arm worth to you? How about your left leg? If you couldn’t use these limbs or, for example, if they were broken, how much would you pay to have them fixed? These questions might seem random, even nonsensical, but the truth is that many people are forced to ask themselves these questions more frequently than you might realize.
Case in point: We ask ourselves how much our health is worth whenever we buy insurance. The better and more comprehensive the plan we buy, the better the treatment we’re likely to receive. On average, Americans pay around $90 a month for their health insurance premiums and an additional $1,318 every year for out of pocket costs. While car insurance varies greatly depending on location, age and any other number of factors, the average yearly payments are a little over $900.
The absurdity of putting a dollar amount on our health becomes even more glaring in certain circumstances. For example, states have their own formulas to find out exactly what the loss of a limb might be worth to an injured worker. In Missouri, an arm lost in a work injury is likely to be worth $115,100, according to ProPublica. This type of estimation is also applied to other types of injuries, such as those suffered in vehicle crashes.
The point of looking at these sometimes arbitrary dollar amounts is to realize that we tend to look at injuries as tangible losses, something that can be determined by a mathematical formula. But victims of serious injuries know that these figures are rarely applicable to the real-world costs they must face.
Perhaps for some Americans, an injury might cost a specific amount of money, a fixed amount that includes the medical bills and possibly the time spent in recovery. Yet, the true costs of one given injury can quickly accumulate in ways that most people would never imagine possible.
A serious and debilitating injury can be extremely expensive and impact our lives for years to come. Some of these effects are more obvious than others, while others are subtler, though no less daunting. Let’s look at just a few of the many ways in which an injury can impact our lives.
Medical Bills – These are the most obvious of all the expenses an injury might cause a person. The costs of healthcare for injuries include diagnosis, further testing, treatment, medication, ongoing care, rehabilitation and follow-up visits. Rarely does insurance cover all the costs we might face. The saying that you often hear from attorneys, doctors and other professionals is that we are all only one major health problem away from poverty.
This axiom is a sad truth for many Americans. Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States, and it’s largely because of the direct costs of healthcare when you become sick or seriously injured. Though medical bills might be the most obvious of all injury costs, they are not to be taken lightly or underestimated in their impact on an injured person.
Loss of Income – Devastating injuries often lead to time off work, time which may or may not be paid for by an employer. If your injury was suffered while on the job and if you are covered by workers’ compensation insurance, then this time off might indeed be covered. But for many people who suffer a serious injury, the time spent away from work costs a significant sum of money, which accumulates as the weeks and months pass without generating their full income.
Independent contractors, workers injured in non-work related accidents, or even those who are lucky enough to receive workers’ compensation eventually start to feel the impact of lost wages. To make matters even worse, some serious injuries alter a person’s ability to work entirely, putting them in the unfortunate circumstance of paying medical bills without a steady stream of income.
Pain and suffering – The incredible amount of pain a person might experience following injury is very difficult to calculate in terms of dollars and cents. A diminished quality of life effectively puts a cap on a person’s happiness; and it’s this intangible, indefinable characteristic of a serious injury that can be the costliest for a sufferer.
Ongoing pain can affect a person’s demeanor, their outlook on life, their personality and their personal relationships. These things are priceless. When a person’s livelihood is impacted by an injury, there is simply no dollar amount that will adequately pay for their loss.
Dependence – Sadly, an injury can make a person dependent on medical professionals, on the kindness of others or on medication to function or cope with the fallout of their injury. Losing independence is something that people rarely consider until they face the consequences of a life-altering injury. For those who are more fortunate, this might be a short-lived period from which they will eventually emerge, but for others, it’s a lifelong condition that will compound the direct costs faced after an injury.
The loss of a loved one – Perhaps the most serious of all losses that we can suffer from an injury is the loss of a friend or family member. Thousands of people lose a loved one every year due to workplace injuries, vehicle crashes, accidental poisonings or any other number of injury-related causes. The void left by the death of a family member is one that can never be filled.
For survivors, the costs of an injury-related death of a family member is also compounded by outstanding medical bills, loss of income, funeral bills and other end-of-life costs. These costs hit people when they are at their most emotionally and financially vulnerable.
When we think about the costs of an injury, we must factor in all the consequences, not just the direct financial costs. This is a lesson that injury attorneys know all too well. We have seen the terrible impact an injury can have on the lives of a victim and how it can also impact that person’s family and loved ones throughout the rest of their lives.
We should all value our health, but it’s easy to understand why some people might be tempted to take it for granted. You rarely think about just how important it is to be able to perform routine tasks, do your job, or engage with your loved ones without the ever-present pain that so many Americans face after being seriously injured. Unfortunately, it’s only after we lose our good health that we start to realize and appreciate its value.
Mark Evans is a Missouri trial attorney and partner at the Bley & Evans law firm.