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Financial Costs of Cancer

by Maggie Jones
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Today is the 4 week anniversary of when I went to the hospital for vision anomalies and found out that I had secondary retina and brain tumors. In that short span of time I’ve racked up over $40,000 US in medical bills.  This doesn’t include my lost salary from medical leave or the cost of equipment like the oxygen concentrator or air purifier. I’m incredibly fortunate that insurance will reimburse the majority of these costs for me but I’m devastated to think of all the people out there who don’t have such excellent coverage.

Brad sorting through insurance paperworkBrad sorting insurance paperwork.

A wonderful little quirk of Hong Kong medical care is that the staff will tell you the cost of everything up front. If something is expensive, like the emergency MRI that first night 4 weeks ago or my $10k/ month Xalkori prescription, they’ll write down the amount on a piece of paper and ask you verbally if it’s okay to proceed – usually twice.   It’s easy for me to answer now but what would I do if I didn’t have my safety cushion of insurance and savings? What if I had to weigh the advantages of living an extra month or two against my kids’ college education?

The first few days after my diagnosis – before I was convinced I could beat this – I gave serious thought to how deeply I should tap savings to extend my life.  It’s an unpleasant question to consider.  Given how positive I feel after these last weeks of research, I’m currently willing to spend all my liquid savings but not go into debt or sell our properties.  Brad is willing to draw against our HELOC.  Most people don’t have this kind of luxury of thought – we certainly didn’t 5 years ago.  Just being diagnosed cost $17,500 US. This is more than most Americans have saved for retirement.

Oh! And these are all the prices in Hong Kong which is much less costly than the world’s most expensive healthcare system, the United States.

I don’t know what the answer is but it certainly makes me feel more urgency than ever about fixing healthcare in America.  No one should die of cancer because they can’t afford life-saving medicine or to fast-track diagnosis.

Preachy preachy, I know – and to the converted, for the most part. But it’s been on my mind a lot.

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