Migraines: The Individual Financial Toll

“A million here, a million there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money” -Everett Dirksen (d’d) US Senator from Illinois
June 27, 2015
Jim Carleton

Healthcare is expensive. We all know this. Even under the best of circumstances, a generally healthy person, can dedicate a large portion of income in service of insurance premiums, deductibles, co-insurance, co-pays, and medications to name a few “usual ” expenses. The stakes, and expenses, get much higher when you introduce a chronic disabling illness, like migraine.

We can start by taking another look at some fairly well-known and accepted statistics. 36 Million migraineurs in the US, miss about 113 Million work days per year. This loss of productivity costs employers and the economy in general $13 Billion Dollars. This results in estimated healthcare costs of $50 Billion Dollars a year. That is certainly enough to make former Senator Dirksen blanch.

Obviously Migraine sufferers spend much more on their health care than those who don’t suffer from migraines, whether chronic or episodic.. Migraineurs use 2.5 times the amount of prescription drugs and have six times as many diagnostic tests and services, than those who do not suffer. The average monthly healthcare costs for migraineurs is $145, while those who don’t get migraines pay an average of $89 per month. That an annual difference of $672 or about 61%. Then you begin to factor in all the other costs that may be under the radar such as; travel to various specialists, non-traditional medical practices, acupuncture (not always covered), strange diets, experimental surgeries, electro-stimulation devices, and the list goes on. Suffice it to say that most migraineurs, suffering at that level of pain, will go to extraordinary lengths in hope that this new approach is the treatment that will heal. Expense becomes secondary. Relief is primary.

Chronic illnesses like migraine can and will break you financially. Working, even at the most simple tasks, can be next to impossible when in the throes of a migraine attack. So, first sick time, then vacation time are used up. Or, in a futile effort to preserve any paid time off, if not your job itself, you force yourself to go to work impaired. Both quality of work and productivity suffer, through no fault of the migraineur. Stigma, of course, may be alive and well in the workplace, placing your job in further jeopardy. I recall my wife, a migraineur, went to work during a migraine episode. She also suffers from Migraine Associated Vertigo (MAV). She had a severe attack of vertigo at work and crashed into some file cabinets. That combined with her sunglasses and pain-stricken affect caused her co-workers to believe she was drinking (alcohol) at 10 in the morning on a Wednesday. Not a headache, drunk. She didn’t lose her job, but the rumors began to circulate. Which underscores my second point, even if you do not lose your job, and precious healthcare benefits, your status at work can be called into question. You are no longer seen as reliable, perhaps even viewed as a liability.

After all the referrals, imaging, blood tests, physical therapy, medications with ridiculous co-pays, more imaging, and time missed from work you wish your migraines only cost you $145 a month. That’s just the start. If you are insured, with a decent plan with low deductibles and co-pays consider yourself fortunate, if that’s possible. If you are uninsured or out of work, pursue an option through your State’s federally mandated healthcare exchange. You may find help there.

There is much buzz about the new class of drugs being developed to act as a preventative to developing a migraine in the first place. At least 4 pharmaceutical companies are in heated competition here. We can only pray that the pricing model coming out of this new class of drugs is one that 36 million sufferers can afford, without the attendant financial ruin. 20 years of drug patent protection and frivolous patent litigation can make real affordable help seem like light years away.