Running a Small Business and Almost Losing My Daughter
As small business owners, we take certain risks. We don’t have a safety net. We don’t have a steady paycheck. We just do things our own way. Things happen because we make them happen. It’s the natural drive that we have, and it’s one that we should be damn proud of.
Unfortunately, one of the more significant challenges we must tackle is healthcare, and I’m going to tell you what made me so passionate about it. Imagine a starry-eyed entrepreneur working on his dreams, making big sacrifices, taking big risks, and feeling invincible. There’s a woman in this picture, supporting her husband and primarily raising their children.
The kids have a zealous faith in their daddy to always keep them fed and safe. Then something happens that he can’t handle alone. One gets sick, flirts with death, and the invincible entrepreneur sees some major holes in his plans.
This was me, Brady Mullen, 11 years ago.
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The Healthcare Solution for Entrepreneurs is Born
I’ve always been a numbers and spreadsheets kind of person. This way of looking at the world has its upsides, but it’s not a foolproof approach to all challenges. In 2009, I had an insurance plan that outperformed all other options on my spreadsheet. It was a catastrophic plan. I was paying cash for my family’s medical expenses until I reached a $13,000 deductible. This looked much better than a higher premium product that had low co-pays and a lower deductible. My reasoning went something like this...
“My family and I are healthy, so I’d rather pay a lower premium. – my spreadsheet says that unless we have a lot of expensive medical needs, which we won’t because we’re healthy, this scenario will cost me the least over time.”
I was so proud of my frugality. And I had spreadsheets to prove I was right! Maybe you’re not a spreadsheet geek, and maybe you are, but if you’re an entrepreneur of any kind, that general thought pattern about your own strengths probably feels familiar. We wouldn’t be entrepreneurs if we weren’t confident, right?
Maybe I’m being too nice to myself by painting a picture where I had options – I’m not sure I could have even afforded the more expensive plan at the time. I had five kids from a newborn to a 10 year-old. Yes, five kids. I know. I was the sole source of income for our family at the time, so money was tight, and we were damn good at stretching a dollar.
I’m going to share what happened next from my point of view; although the story was much bigger than me, the lesson to be learned here is how my pride quickly degraded to overwhelming fear, despair, guilt, and shame. I share this story to hopefully provide valuable insight to other entrepreneurs who can hopefully avoid the soul-crushing cost I paid.
One winter, a common cold was going through our family. No big deal – we’ve dealt with this many times.
When my two-year-old daughter showed similar symptoms, I thought it was obvious that she had the same thing, and I was not going to pay a doctor $150 to tell me that! We had her drink lots of fluids, rest as much as possible, and wait for the cycle to run its course.
Different people have different experiences with the same viruses, so the fact that she was taking longer to get better barely seemed noteworthy. Besides, I’m an entrepreneur. I have a healthy family. We don’t get sick. We overcome!
Two nights later, her pale skin and very shallow breaths finally demanded a doctor’s attention. I am profoundly ashamed to admit that without my wife’s pressure, I would have probably waited even longer. I was stubbornly proud of my frugal nature. Even 11 years later, admitting this still stings. But my wife convinced me we had to take her to a doctor. I was right about one thing: the doctor appointment cost us $150, and the doctor didn’t even see her for 5 minutes. He didn’t have to.
Her oxygen level was so low, he frantically insisted we take her directly to a hospital. The look of panic on his face chilled me to my core. That look instantaneously cleared my head of all concerns about money. We were in panic mode.
By the time she was admitted, the doctors and nurses at the hospital were unable to give her an IV because her veins were collapsing. The only ounce of energy my two-year-old daughter had was used to whimper and cling to her mommy or daddy whenever a new person walked in the door; she had learned that whoever walks in that door is going to hurt her by poking her with something.
After several attempts to give her fluids and medicine intravenously, they gave up and ordered an ambulance to take her to the Children’s Hospital. The Children’s Hospital was more poking, but they were finally able to find a vein to provide her fluids and medicine. They arranged an emergency surgery to remove the fluid from her chest so her lungs could once again expand.
At last, the surgery gave me time to get out of panic mode and reflect. This was largely my fault, and there was no way to come to any other conclusion. I sobbed and, although I am not particularly religious, I prayed desperately for an hour in the public waiting room for my little girl. She had developed severe pneumonia, and the surgeon removed over a liter of fluid from the chest of my little girl who was still in diapers.
For the next ten days, doctors and nurses would regularly and forcefully press a mask onto her face to force air into her nose and mouth to reinflate her lungs. From what I hear, this feels like drowning. She also had a hole in her chest that was healing, which made the process even more painful. I will never forget her expressions of pain, fear, confusion, and despair. She was unable to understand why this was happening while her parents stood by.
On top of all the frightening things she was enduring, the expressions on her face showed she also felt betrayed by her parents. This was a dark time for me. I kept it together in front of my daughter for her sake, but I was a wreck. My arrogance in my frugality and spreadsheet acumen gave way to an unbearable burden of guilt. I had utterly failed my lovely and trusting daughter, and I shed countless tears over this.
Among other profound shifts in my priorities, I quickly upgraded my brain software to value access to medical care above all else. From then on, I’ve made it a point to err on the side of caution when it comes to health. There is no more worthy cause to spend money than on the health of my family, including myself. I changed how I thought about what healthcare strategy made sense for my family. Only after I felt we had easy access to the care we needed did I look for ways to save on cost.
Fast forward to 2020...
If there’s anything businesses in the United States do well, it’s innovate. Now, with the passion borne of hard experiences, I diligently strive to provide entrepreneurs with access to quality care, which is only helpful if it’s affordable. For starters, I value unlimited 24/7/365 access to primary care, so I can get a doctor’s opinion and care anytime with no financial barriers (no co-pays). That’s primary physician care, x-rays, labs, annual visits, etc. any time of day, any day of the year, with no copay. And for non-primary care (i.e. surgery, hospitalization, specialist treatment, etc.), the out-of-pocket cost should be something low. I shouldn’t have had to waver for an instant between getting the care my daughter needed and the financial impact on my family.
I can guess what you’re thinking. Something like, “Ya, Brady. Who wouldn’t love that, but I can’t spend $2,000 per month on my healthcare.” It sounds like a “Cadillac Plan” that must cost thousands per month, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t. The cost is between $319/mo and $449/mo (depending on age) for an individual anywhere in the U.S.
For now, let’s get back to the story, which has a happy ending, by the way. With fortune I didn’t deserve, she recovered slowly over a few months, and she is as healthy now as any other teenager. But I changed. I was deeply grateful to the healthcare providers who saved my daughter’s life. I was thrilled to pay my $13,000 deductible on her care instead of on her funeral. And I vowed to do things differently going forward.
I used to say...“We’re healthy, and we never go to the doctor.” Of course, this is true of nearly everyone until you go to the doctor! No one is immune from accidents or fluke illnesses, not even us, the indestructible entrepreneurs. After this experience, I started saying, “We’re healthy, but we are likely to need a doctor eventually.”
We all must consider the real possibility of a large medical bill (my daughter’s treatment cost $110,000 eleven years ago) becoming a part of our lives. How does this help entrepreneurs today? Nowadays, if you have a similar commitment to your and/or your family’s health, and you don’t have an employer providing healthcare benefits, you’ve got a problem. Even the most affordable insurance plans are expensive, and they put you in the same boat I was in over a decade ago. You pay a large monthly premium for the plan, and when you do need care, it costs you many thousands of dollars again in coinsurance and deductibles!
It disincentivizes you to get the care you or a family member needs. And higher-quality plans are so expensive, we cringe at adding that expense to our budgets. Luckily, when there’s a problem, people innovate, create, collaborate, and solve problems. Next, I’ll share some ideas that describe how I satisfy the priority of having no-barrier access to primary care, low cost for major medical care, and an affordable monthly rate.
One of my favorite innovations in this space is Direct Primary Care (DPC), which is sometimes referred to as “Medical Concierge”. This is a model where a primary care provider offers a subscription (usually less than $100/month), which gives you unlimited 24/7/365 primary care and no copay.
A DPC typically covers things like doctor visits, preventative care, x-rays, simple labs, etc. Had this been around when my daughter was sick, I would have had no reason to not call the doctor the minute my daughter had symptoms. Instead of trying to save $150 by avoiding the doctor, I would have simply connected with a doctor right away and paid nothing! DPC does not, however, pay for hospitalization (or other expensive and specialized medical treatment). For this, you need something beyond primary care.
What seems to be the most cost-effective strategy for dealing with this is medical cost sharing. This structure has been used for decades by some religious ministries, but the recent increase in healthcare costs has directed a lot of public attention toward these options. There are now many cost sharing entities that have no religious affiliation requirements, but they are not all created equally. So if you want to do some investigation, be sure to dig deep to understand their differences and limitations.
One crucial thing to know about these is that they usually have some temporary restrictions on what they will pay to treat a pre-existing condition. Some don’t consider conditions as “pre-existing” if you have fully recovered more than a couple of years ago, but some go all the way back, which is not good. So if you want to investigate this on your own, be sure to learn how they deal with that.
If you have a current or very recent medical condition that may require surgery or hospitalization, medical cost sharing will likely be a bad fit for you. For example, if you enroll in one today so you can get the knee surgery you’ve been needing, that will not work. This makes logical sense, of course. Allowing that would break the system.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Pairing a subscription that gives you 24/7/365 access to primary care with zero co-pay (DPC) with a reputable medical cost sharing community is a very comprehensive and inexpensive way to solve the healthcare problem faced by entrepreneurs.
This is the solution we provide entrepreneurs. Our mission is to provide care for small businesses that doesn’t cut corners, at the lowest price possible.
We chose specific primary care and medical cost sharing solutions for their value and ability to work with each other so the experience between the patients, the doctors, and the administrative staff is virtually seamless.
Be prepared for this. Find a strategy that makes it easy to get an x-ray, bloodwork, a doctor’s opinion, etc. Setting money aside for this can be a good start, but I’d urge you to go further. Even money earmarked for a type of expense can still be painful to spend if you’re not sure you have to (which was my condition earlier). I’ve found it much more aligned to my priorities to simply remove all possible barriers so my financial goals and my family’s health (including mine) are not at odds with one another.
I’ve also become a little wiser in understanding that a healthy me is much more likely to hit my financial goals than an unhealthy me. Even if that weren’t true in all cases, what satisfaction is there in hitting financial and business goals if you’re unnecessarily unhealthy, or worse, mourning the loss of a family member? It’s hard to imagine a priority more noble than health. If you’d like to see the method I use to solve this problem for myself and other entrepreneurs, visit us online at SelfEmployed.Health
I hope this gives insight and inspiration to my fellow entrepreneurs. Keep changing the world. Live a full life. Be healthy.
This is my healthy and happy daughter today, 11 years later.
If you take anything away from this story, take away the commitment to take your healthcare strategy, whatever it is, seriously. Unless you die abruptly in an accident, you or those who depend on you will need medical care eventually, and it is often expensive.
This program is NOT insurance and is managed by Redirect Health exclusively for members of the Reimagined Society. The Medical Cost Share risk pool is managed by Newpath Medical, Inc., a Wyoming Health Sharing Ministry organized pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. §26-1-104. There is no sharing if Redirect Health does not initiate or guide care. The total rate charged is inclusive of an association fee of $2 for an individual, $3 for an individual with spouse or child(ren), and $4 per family per month, payable to Reimagined Society, Inc. in addition to the $29 annual association membership fee. This program does NOT meet the minimum requirements for MEC (Minimal Essential Coverage) or the ACA (Affordable Care Act). New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, California, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia have passed their own state-level individual mandate laws that mirror the Federal Affordable Care Act. Redirect Health and Medical Cost Share memberships do not satisfy the new individual mandate requirements of these states. It should be expected that state enforced penalties may apply in these states.
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Medical Cost Sharing is not insurance and is not issued or offered by an insurance company. While every effort is made to meet member’s medical needs, Medical Cost Share does not guarantee payment of any medical expense.
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