Tuesday, March 25, 2008

High Risks and High Costs

It was a couple of weeks ago when I first received the news that a long time friend of mine had been diagnosed with cancer. He is in his mid forties - just a few years older than me. There seems to never be any rhyme or reason to such things. He has always been a healthy individual, strong, outdoorsy and with a positive attitude.

When I spoke with him about his condition, I was reassured by his matter of fact approach. He stated lots of statistics and mentioned both the downfalls and the bright side to the whole situation. I refrained from questioning him, but it is only natural to want to ask how and why these things happen to people. I know that whenever I am confronted with some illness or injury, I want to know the root cause. Sure, I want to treat the symptoms and reduce the pain, but even more so I want to address the source. What went wrong? What can I do to prevent this in the future?

Obviously cancer is more complicated than a torn ligament or a recessed gum line and no one has those kinds of answers. From what is currently known about cancer, it appears that several factors interplay and that genetics have a huge role in the disease along with one’s environment and lifestyle.

News of the diagnoses was distressing, but to add even more anxiety to the situation – he told me that he is without health insurance. He is self-employed and for nearly thirty years he and his wife received health insurance through her employer. In all of those years, they were rarely ill, had no children and consequently almost never used the policy. As fate would have it, four months ago she left her job to take over the “books” for his small business. They never got around to signing up for health insurance! Again, I refrained from asking too many questions. I know that money was not the issue, so how could anyone in this day and age allow this to happen? Haven’t we all heard the horror stories about people with and without insurance?

So what does one do when faced with expensive treatment costs? One negotiates; one makes deals with the doctors! His doctors have a special plan for people without insurance. It’s called the cash discount! If a treatment is expected to cost $1200, the doc will offer it for 50% off or $600 when paid in cash.

Such dealings seem absurd, but it’s at times like these that we are reminded health care is just another business; a business that deals in life and death.

In addition, drug companies occasionally offer free samples or donations to prescription-assistance programs for people without insurance. Even with these cost breaks and freebies, his bill over the last few weeks has exceeded $12,000. His future includes several radiation treatments and a couple of surgeries, so this bill will continue to climb, astronomically. Every treatment that is recommended by the doctor must be weighed for cost effectiveness.

Who needs another variable like that in decisions about your health? For additional reading, I found this MSNBC article to be very informative about the rising cost of treatments and the new guidelines to help doctors discuss the affordability of treatment options with patients.

Meanwhile, my friend is researching the possibility of getting into a high risk state-assisted insurance pool at $1600/month. If at all possible, this is probably the way to go since other health complications may arise during his treatments.

This experience has categorically brought home for me the importance of health and health insurance. Things can and do change suddenly in life. For many years, I have planned for early retirement, which would mean the cessation of my current health insurance. With that in mind, I have always intended on purchasing a high deductible plan to continue my coverage. Now, I am certain beyond any doubt, that I will have coverage before leaving my current employer.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow- that really strikes home how important it is to not let your health insurance lapse.
    Being able to pay the cost of health insurance is one of the key factors in determining whether you one retire early or not.