Generally speaking, I have no idea how much my cancer treatments are costing; I am tremendously grateful for decent health insurance so that I don't have to think about much more than my $30 co-pay at each visit. Chris and I did some quick calculations, and we figure we're going to be out-of-pocket about $1,000 when all of this is said and done. $1,375 if you count the naturopath I saw who was not covered by insurance. This sum includes my doctors visits; my surgical biopsies; my MRI, CT, PET and PEM scans; my ultrasounds and mammograms; the surgery to place my port through which I receive all of my medicine; my weekly Herceptin treatments; and my triple-cocktail chemo every third week.
It also includes a follow-up drug called Neulasta to boost my white blood cell counts that I receive after every round of chemo. Prior to my first dose of Neulasta, the nurse called my insurance company to make sure it would be covered because it is a six-thousand dollar shot. Since I'll get six of these injections over the course of the next three months, I am happy to say insurance pays for them.
But all of this has me thinking: what if I didn't have insurance? You can bet your ass Chris and I would do all we could to borrow and beg for enough money to pay for top-notch medical care, but I know that it would very quickly become a heavy burden to bear. I cannot imagine going through this while worrying about how to pay for it. Cancer gives you plenty to worry about as it is.
For about a year before I found the job I have now, I practiced bankruptcy law. It was a rough year. I came home crying several nights a week because of the sad, sad stories people were sharing with me day-in and day-out. Sure, many of them had simply overextended themselves in boom times, but a good number of my clients were in dire straits through no fault of their own - just unlucky circumstances beyond their control.
One of the most common reasons people turned to our firm for help was that they couldn't afford their medical costs. Bankruptcy provided a way out from under their bills and some breathing room. The ugly truth, though, is that clearing your record of money owed to a physician makes it highly unlikely that that doctor will treat you again anytime soon. Doctors need to make a living, too.
Recently, I read another breast cancer survivor's story. She is self-employed and had high premiums to pay throughout her treatment. Now, eleven cancer-free years later, she is still not eligible for better insurance because of her pre-existing condition. With cancer, apparently, insurance companies insist on fifteen cancer-free years before they'll consider whether you're healthy enough to qualify for a new plan.
I don't begin to believe that I know what the solution to our country's healthcare system is, but this diagnosis has certainly made me think things need to change. Not to get too political, but it doesn't seem right that if you're unemployed, you don't get health insurance. I'm pretty sure cancer doesn't discriminate.