The Price of Being Sick
Right after we discovered that the cancer was back, I was put on an expensive oral chemotherapy drug called Tykerb. It was classified in such a way that my insurance only paid half the cost, meaning I owed $1,800 a month for that medication alone. I didn’t qualify for financial aid through the drug company because my salary was too high, but my mother, a pharmacist, reached out to all her friends to find opportunities for aid. A social worker at Roosevelt Hospital, where I’d been receiving treatment, helped me apply for help too.
At first, I felt guilty. I thought, I have a job and insurance! Maybe others need it more. But the costs of treatment, plus my $1,500 monthly mortgage payment, started to weigh heavily. I had to try.
Ultimately, the Patient Advocate Foundation awarded me $1,750, CancerCare offered $325 and the Pink Daisy Project sent me gift cards to Trader Joe’s, Subway and Applebee’s that added up to about $400. I also applied for help from Team Continuum, a hospital conglomerate to which Roosevelt belongs. They paid the management fee ($148 per month) at my condo for four months. Insurance covered a couple wigs when I first lost my hair, then the American Cancer Society gave me one in 2012. Every bit made a difference, and I’m so grateful.
In 2010 I filed for short-term disability, which came to about $800 a month, when I was off work for my surgeries for six weeks. I had to be out for a lot of treatments, but my incredibly generous boss said I could take the time, as long as I maintained my work. I never took a reduced workload. I couldn’t travel in the beginning, so I missed some business trips, but mostly I just worked it all around my doctor’s appointments.
Each year has brought a different bill for things like deductibles and coinsurance amounts for chemo, payments for my out-of-network doctors and copays for those in-network, more tests and prescriptions. In 2010, the year of my diagnosis, my total out-of-pocket costs were $11,708.51. The next year, my total out-of-pocket costs were $10,693.12, and in 2012 they were “only” $6,423.17.
Looking back, as far as I can now track, the total billed to my health insurance company was $1.26 million—which doesn’t count the first year and four months of my treatment when I had two chemo regimens, two surgeries and one course of radiation.
In some ways, I was financially fortunate. I have always been a saver, so I had at least some money to fall back on in a worst-case scenario. And, miraculously, in 2008, before any of this ever happened, a fellow Villanova alum called to sell me long-term disability insurance. I only listened to the pitch to be nice, but then I mentioned it to my father and he said it couldn’t be a bad idea. So I signed up through Northwestern Mutual. That has proved incredibly important.
I can’t imagine how people without insurance do it.