Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, diarrhea, anemia, weight loss, and fatigue. It’s a lifelong condition, and these symptoms may come and go.
Managing Crohn’s disease often involves lifestyle changes, medication, and frequent checkups with a gastroenterologist, a digestive health specialist. It can also involve surgical procedures, emergency room visits, hospitalization.
In fact, hospital visits are common in people living with Crohn’s disease. And the cost of these visits can add up.
Here’s what you need to know about managing the cost of hospital stays, including how to prevent a hospitalization.
The severity of Crohn’s disease can vary from person to person. The risk of hospitalization is lower in those who have more mild symptoms. However, the risk increases with severe flares.
The reason for hospitalization can also vary from person to person. Factors that can trigger a hospital stay include:
Diarrhea is a common symptom of Crohn’s disease. Inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract can cause persistent diarrhea. This can cause your body to lose a large amount of fluid and increase the risk of dehydration.
Dehydration is when your body doesn’t have enough water. Severe dehydration is serious and requires immediate attention. It often requires a visit to a medical facility for an IV to restore lost fluids.
The first sign of mild dehydration is typically thirst, which may be accompanied by dry mouth, headache, and tiredness.
Symptoms of severe dehydration can include dizziness, muscle cramps, confusion, and a rapid pulse.
Severe intestinal bleeding
Rectal bleeding is another symptom of Crohn’s disease. It’s not uncommon to detect blood in the stool.
Bleeding is sometimes due to a hemorrhoid or a tear in the lining of the anus.
Bloody stool can also be a sign of internal bleeding in the GI tract. Inflammation can damage the lining of blood vessels, which causes bleeding and can lead to anemia. Surgery is sometimes necessary to repair a bleeding vessel.
Other intestinal complications
Crohn’s disease can also lead to other complications like an intestinal obstruction. This occurs when the bowel wall thickens and the intestinal passage narrows. Taking medication to reduce inflammation can help reverse an obstruction. But in severe cases, surgery is necessary.
Surgery and hospitalization can also occur if a fistula develops in the GI tract. This is an abnormal connection between two body parts due to inflammation, such as the colon and bladder.
The total lifetime cost of hospitalization varies from person to person, depending on the severity of symptoms as well as the age of diagnosis.
Another study looking at Americans living with Crohn’s disease over the course of 5 years found that
Even with health insurance, hospital stays can result in significant out-of-pocket costs. You’ll likely have a deductible, which is what you’ll pay out-of-pocket before your insurance provider pays a claim.
You might also have coinsurance, which is the percent you pay for healthcare services after paying your deductible.
These strategies can help you manage these costs and reduce the likelihood of a hospital visit.
1. Ask about financial assistance
Many hospital systems have financial assistance programs to help people cover some of their healthcare costs.
Some programs are only available to those who don’t have health insurance. Other programs are available whether you have coverage or not. Each hospital has its own policies, you’ll need to speak directly with the facility’s financial assistance office.
You might be eligible for discounted care depending on your household income. If you’re not eligible for a discount, you may be able to set up an interest-free payment plan.
2. Get an itemized bill
Hospital billing errors can happen. Request an itemized statement before making any payment.
Contact the hospital’s billing department if you don’t recognize a charge, notice a duplicate charge, or have any questions about the charges overall.
3. Choose an in-network surgeon
Contact your health insurance company to find in-network medical professionals, including a surgeon who can perform any procedures necessary.
Using an out-of-network surgeon (or hospital) can result in additional out-of-pocket costs. Some health plans will not cover out-of-network healthcare services, meaning you could end up paying for a procedure on your own.
4. Sign up for health savings
Ask your employer about benefits like a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA).
These programs allow you to set aside money before taxes to be used to help cover the cost of healthcare expenses. Many HSA or FSA programs can be applied toward emergency department visits, surgical procedures, and hospital stays.
Putting pre-tax money into these accounts helps you produce overall savings.
5. Take steps to prevent a hospital visit
Crohn’s disease can be unpredictable. But keeping inflammation and flares under control can help prevent hospitalization. Make sure you:
- Follow your treatment plan as prescribed. Medications like aminosalicylates, immunomodulators, or biologics can reduce inflammation in your colon and lower the frequency of flares.
- Adapt your diet. Crohn’s disease symptoms may worsen after consuming certain foods and drinks (alcohol, spicy foods, dairy). There’s no exact Crohn’s diet. But identifying your food triggers and taking steps to avoid them can help reduce the risk of flares and complications.
- Manage stress. Crohn’s symptoms can flare up when you’re feeling stressed. Take steps to stay ahead of stress by exercising regularly and practicing relaxation techniques.
- Quit smoking, if you smoke. Smoking can also worsen symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Avoiding smoking as well as exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to fewer flares.
- Communicate with your doctor. Don’t skip any follow-up appointments with your gastroenterologist, even if you’re feeling well. Contact your doctor if any symptoms worsen or don’t respond to medication. These are signs your treatment plan may need adjusting to help decrease inflammation in the GI tract.
The cost of hospital stays from Crohn’s disease can be intimidating, but managing flares can help prevent hospital visits. This involves taking your medication, avoiding your triggers, and notifying your doctor if symptoms don’t improve.
If hospitalization is necessary, choose in-network providers and ask about financial assistance programs to help keep costs manageable.