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The Cost of Cancer

Posted 3/27/2015

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  I suppose that I could just refer you to NPR's excellent series about cancer, but that would not give me the chance to comment. Today's topic--and eventual link to their report--is about the cost of cancer. I have written other times in this blog about the larger policy issues and the urgent national need for cost containment and difficult decisions Today's focus is more personal.

  Let me begin by noting that I, blessedly, have really excellent medical insurance; I doubt that many people have policies that are better. Even with this terrific coverage, our costs continue to rise. Not only is the cost of the insurance itself higher than last year, but, for the first time, we have a deductible. Since, like many of you, I have a fair number of medical appointments, we are meeting my deductible pretty quickly, and I surely am noticing those bills. Please do not think that I am complaining. I am well aware of my good fortune, and we can afford to pay this deductible, but it is a change, and I suspect it will rise next year.

  In my office this week, I have had a number of conversations with and about people who are in real financial crisis. Sometimes their situations were dire before cancer, and the diagnosis made things worse. Sometimes things were manageable before cancer. An example of the former would be a man recently diagnosed with advanced colon cancer; he is a builder, has his own company. Like many in his trade, his income was badly hurt by the recent recession, and things have only recently improved. Now he can't work. His wife lost her job last fall, has not been able to find another, and just learned that her unemployment benefits have ended. They have two children, one in high school and one in college. And they now have no income and many medical bills and terrible worry about the future.

  Another woman has been going through treatment for a GYN cancer. She has had two surgeries and may need another; she has also had radiation and continues with chemotherapy. She works in housekeeping at a local business and has very minimal benefits that she quickly exhausted. She now has no income and very large medical bills--and is a single parent with three children at home. Another woman was living quite comfortably with a good job before her cancer. It turned out that she needed to be out of work longer than anticipated. and she was eventually terminated from her position (legally). She has savings and a pretty good cushion, but it has also turned out that her medical insurance was no where near as comprehensive as anticipated, and she has huge bills that keep coming. Even people without such major problems are coping with ever larger deductibles and co-pays. One woman I know has just been presrcibed a new chemotherapy treatment and learned, to her horror, that she will have a monthly co-pay of $2000 for this drug. She is trying to decide if she can pay that and if it is worth it.

  And now to NPR: How Much Does Cancer Cost Us?
Before we started our Living Cancer series, we went on NPR's Facebook page to ask people about their
experiences in paying for cancer treatment. Over a hundred people from across the country responded.
We talked with some people by phone to learn about their stories.
Maureen Carrigg, who lives in Wayne, Neb., was diagnosed with multiple myeloma six years ago. Even
though she says she was meticulous about staying within her insurer's network for care, she still ended up
owing $80,000 in out-of-pocket costs.

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