Friday, February 4, 2011

Finances and cancer

You get cancer and then you have to pay for it. Financially - not just emotionally or physically. In addition to nasty treatments that leave you physically drained, you are expected to keep your regular work schedule so you have an income. I was reminded of this by a friend yesterday who referred me to an online discussion of the financial toll of cancer. Insurance doesn't cover everything. Co-pays and prescriptions start to add up and you have to miss work due to surgery and chemo therapy.

My story is a little different but I think the point is there. I was laid off from my job two weeks before my breast cancer diagnosis. I was trying to look for a job through surgeries and chemo. Ha, it didn't work. I did get requests for interviews and accepted them - thinking I could drag myself there with my post surgical pain. Is a surgical drain a good or bad job interview accessory? Finally I just gave up on job hunting and worked a part time job at a local community ed program. At the end of treatment, 8 months later, I found more work part time. I have worked part time ever since. My earnings are approximately 50% of what they were previously.

I was also lucky enough to get health insurance through my husband's job. I never paid that much attention to what was covered and what wasn't. I have a $350 deductible annually - this means I pay the first $350 out of pocket. Then I have co-pays for each visit which range from $20-$40 and then I am responsible for 15% allowable expenses up to $5000 each year.

So if I go for a procedure costs $2000 in the allowable amount, I would have to pay 15% or $300. This out of pocket amount is capped at $5000 each year. I have been hitting this by May or June of each year. But that means I have to come up with $5000 to pay my out of pocket amounts on my reduced salary in six months. So money gets tight while I am scraping up this. The mortgage and utilities still need to be paid, the cars need oil changes and tires, groceries need to be bought. I only need to pay $5000 each year. Many insurance policies do not have out of pocket caps. Instead they offer lifetime caps of what they will pay for treatments for a policy holder.

We are lucky ones. There are many who live paycheck to paycheck or already were in financial straits before adding a cancer diagnosis and the financial burden of medical bills. Or don't have adequate medical insurance. What if the primary or only income earner gets diagnosed and ends up going on long term disability at 60% of their previous income? Foreclosure and bankruptcy quickly loom. I know people who liquidated retirement assets to pay for treatment costs.

Some clinical trial drugs or others which are deemed 'experimental' by insurance companies are not covered. The doctors want to offer the best possible treatments. The patients want to try every possible avenue. Costs continue to pile up.

The financial toll of medical diagnoses can be severe. But can't be ignored. There shouldn't be a financial burden along with the emotional and physical toll.

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