Managing the High Cost of Cancer


The high cost of treatment for cancer places a heavy burden on patients and their families, often leading to stress-related illnesses. Is there a solution?

The call went straight to voicemail as the recording stated the staff was busy helping other patients. I'd made a special point of calling during office hours, but at a time I felt would be less busy. Plan B would need to be implemented. At my last oncology visit, the scheduler had given me her email. She stressed the importance of keeping it handy since the cancer treatment center served many. She said it was sometimes next to impossible to schedule an appointment over the phone.

Pulling up the email address she'd given, I sent a quick note. Giving all the details, I included the reason for needing an appointment and the one date I was unavailable during the month. My purpose, I explained in the email, was trying to get an appointment before the end of the year since I'd met the insurance deductible. I knew if I could get in during the same calendar year, I would only have to pay 20 percent of that visit.

The nurse responded later that day saying there were no appointments available. Since I already had an appointment scheduled for a six-month checkup in February 2019, she stated I should just keep that one. I explained I wasn't only trying to get in under my deductible for the year, I was also experiencing new pain in my hip joint and was concerned about it. She apologized, and the call ended.

Frustrated, I looked at the stack of medical bills in my office. There were many and all from doctors or labs who'd performed procedures over the past year related to my cancer. Some had been turned over to collection, although my husband and I had previously contacted them and requested to make payments. Diligently each month, we sent what we could afford on every bill. Living on one income made it challenging, but we wanted to honor our obligations.

The burden of the high cost of cancer caused me to feel anxious and stressed. Knowing there won't be an end to cancer-related medical expenses until my demise scares me. As my thoughts shifted back to the inability to get an appointment, I wondered if there were others like me who find the weight of cancer care to be too much.

For those with good insurance, the cost of cancer treatment is lighter, but there is still a burden of financial responsibility we must bear. Many insurance companies have raised deductibles, making it almost impossible for many to meet them. For those without insurance, finding ways to pay for medical treatment can be more than costly. Second mortgages are taken out or, in worst-case scenarios, homes are lost because of the heavy financial burden that comes with cancer.

How many times do patients choose to cancel an appointment because of financial strain? Do necessary living expenses sometimes trump medical care? Do medical professionals understand the magnitude of mounting medical expenses for the person affected by cancer?

Some hospitals offer financial aid to those in need, as well as grants and scholarships, but don't advertise it. It's up to the person needing help to investigate it on their own. I did some digging and found that the cancer treatment center offered financial aid, but required an extensive application be completed before aid was considered. To date, I have not applied. Since my husband has a job and we have insurance, I felt the financial aid should go to someone a little worse off than me.

Perhaps I should have called the oncologist's office repeatedly until I was able to make contact with a human, but I was following instructions given at my last appointment. It was disappointing there were no appointments available through the end of the year. I suppose, if there had been a pressing problem, they'd have worked me into the schedule or suggested I go to the emergency room. What bothered me most was the lack of concern for my request.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had no idea it would be so expensive. My thoughts were on fighting to live instead of finding creative ways to pay my bills. Although most of the burden falls on my husband's shoulders, I see the stack of bills growing and realize we're in major debt due to my health problems. We were completely out of debt beforehand.

The medical bills take precedence and often we cut back on other expenses to pay for treatment. It's stressful trying to find a good balance between the two.

I can't help but wonder if doctors understand the pressure of the high cost of medical care for those receiving treatment for cancer or cancer related illnesses? And, perhaps the stress of that burden might contribute to a possible recurrence.

My husband tells me not to worry, that things will work themselves out. Meanwhile, the stack of medical bills grows and the phone calls from collectors are coming in. Managing the high cost of cancer is a job within itself and one no cancer survivor should have to shoulder.

So, what do we do? Perhaps talking with our doctors would help shed some light on this ongoing problem. Everyone knows cancer treatment is expensive and it's a big, big business. Maybe that's why there hasn't been a cure yet…

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