My wife, Loren, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer late last year. She completed full-brain radiation in October and six rounds of chemotherapy after that. She is now on immunotherapy, once every three weeks for the rest of her life.
None of this is cheap, of course. But with good health insurance, it’s manageable, at least for now. We won’t go bankrupt, and we won’t lose our home.
Loren had to quit her job this winter and go onto permanent disability. With California State Disability Insurance this year, Social Security Disability, and, most important of all, a Long-Term Disability insurance policy from her employer, Loren will receive two thirds of her previous income until she reaches full retirement age.
That’s a $30,000 pay cut. Add to that nearly $6,000 a year in out-of-pocket medical expenses, and, as a family, we’re down $36,000 a year, about a quarter of our pre-cancer income. We can still pay the mortgage and our other bills – thank goodness – but only because we have good health insurance.
Loren’s job offered health insurance through UMR. Loren opted for a high-deductible plan with a generous Health Savings Account because, as we thought at the time, we’ll only be paying for routine visits and her employer’s HSA contribution will pretty much cover it.
Fortunately, Loren’s healthcare policy had a $3,000 out-of-pocket yearly maximum. O’Connor Hospital sent UMR a bill for $64,000 for Loren’s emergency room visit and initial hospitalization. Stanford Health Care sent bills totaling $746,000. UMR paid a total of $332,350 last year and charged us exactly $3,002.05.
January 1st, Loren moved on to my health insurance with Anthem Blue Cross, with what can only be called the mother of all pre-existing conditions. (I can only imagine the celebration at UMR when they heard the good news.) Stanford Health Care sent Anthem bills for more than $425,000 in January and February for chemotherapy and brain and spine MRIs. Anthem charged us $5,670.
Stanford has sent them many bills since then, including ones for a pricey PET scan and another set of MRIs. Anthem and Stanford bicker with each other (I can see their disagreements on the Explanations of Benefits), but neither one has ever sent us a big, scary bill.
I don’t care how we get there. I don’t care if it’s repeal and replace, revise and resubmit, or leave that thing alone. And I don’t care if we call it Obamacare, Trumpcare, Ryancare, or McConnellcare. But everyone in a country as wealthy and blessed as ours deserves to have what we have: good health insurance and the head space to spend every moment as best we can, together and happy, not constantly worrying about medical bills.
Because what really matters in this life is time. Time together on a daily basis to enjoy each other’s company. Time together on weekends and other days when Loren is feeling good to get outside and enjoy the sunshine. Time to eat good food and drink good wine, preferably at the vineyard. Time to enjoy good times with good friends.
Serious illness comes with so many worries, most of them overwhelming. Paying for treatment should not be one of them.
Originally published July 24, 2017, in the San Jose Mercury News.
Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.
#cancer #breastcancer #healthcare #healthinsurance #obamacare