Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Half Million Dollars Could Save Your Life

There's a really dumb old adage that goes something like, "a liberal is really just a conservative who's never been mugged." I'm going to flip that little bit of "logic" on it's head by saying, "a conservative is really just a liberal who has never faced a life-threatening accident or illness sans good health insurance."

One thing I've been quite thankful for during my battle with cancer is that I at least have good health insurance and didn't face the additional awful stress of worrying about being financially ruined by the disease. In fact, given how close run this thing was (and still is, frankly) that would likely have been the literal death of me. Though I've lost track of the precise amount, to date the total cost of my care the past two years has easily topped $500,000. One shot alone that accompanied each of my twelve chemotherapy treatments and is designed to help regenerate white blood cells cost $10,000 apiece (yeah, HOL-LEE SHIT is exactly what I thought, too). How many people do you know that have that kind of cash sitting around in their rainy day fund? Yeah, I don't know many either.

It happens so often these days that you hear of someone who has cancer for whom their friends and family have put together a big charity drive that we don't even think anymore about how stressful it must be for the patient. One of the best gags on the otherwise darkly brilliant teevee show, Breaking Bad, even has Walt laundering his drug money through a charitable website set up by his son.

Since I do have good health insurance, I make a point whenever I am discussing my disease with someone of mentioning this cost and how lucky I've been not to have been bankrupted by my ailment. It's my little way of trying to raise awareness of our totally broken health care system without being overbearing about it or starting an argument (though I do notice that as a cancer patient I get far more deference when raising controversial topics than I used to get before I got sick). Sadly, it seems to go way over most people's heads, though I did get one conservative coworker of mine to admit that MAYBE everyone ought to at least be entitled to catastrophic coverage (though who would determine exactly what constitutes a "catastrophic" condition he didn't say).

Had I not had the insurance, I would have faced two stark choices when I was diagnosed: pay up or die. And considering how unlikely my survival was at the start (pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of less than 10%), I might well have chosen the latter to spare my wife from losing the entire nest egg we have built up over the last 20 years. Had we had children, the choices would have been even bleaker--them losing their father versus the loss of any chance that their parents could have helped provide for their future. Strictly on an actuarial basis, treating my cancer made no sense whatsoever.

So why is it exactly that real national health care was a non-starter from the get-go, and how exactly did we end up with an Obamacare abomination that has done little to alleviate the problem? Because, quite simply, there is virtually no empathy left in American politics these days. The vast majority of the people who vote in this country have divided themselves up into two tribes: one who couldn't give a shit about the less fortunate, and one who turns a total blind eye to any injustice just so long as it is being perpetrated by politicians who have a little "D" after their names when they appear on teevee.

But there is one little way that I take solace in all of this. Up until two years ago, I used to joke that being in such good health my whole adult life meant that my health insurance carrier was making out like a bandit on me. As it turned out, however, the joke was on them.

Bonus: "Every life comes with a death sentence"


  1. My sister and brother-in-law recently asked for my help regarding signing up for Medicare and a Medigap/supplemental policy. They were unfamiliar with the process and the various options available. They were shocked at how much less expensive this coverage is compared with their current group health plan options that still leave you saddled with co-pays and deductibles above and beyond the monthly premium expense. Now that they are aware of the absolutely huge savings, they are singing a different tune about "socialized medicine." There is nothing quite like first hand experience is there? Sadly, a huge portion of the general public is also unaware (or poorly informed) of the monthly cost of assisted living (sitters) and nursing home fees. They want to preach about welfare but don't realize that the biggest percentage of welfare dollars goes to pay nursing homes for the care of the elderly and severely medically impaired. Their eye opening moment will come one day when "Mom and Dad need to be looked after" turns into accepting that it's either a monumental budget buster or they have to move Mom and Dad in with them because they (1) can't afford it (2) they see their inheritance going down the tubes or (3) Medicaid has been cut so much that beds are even more few and far between and there is a very very long waiting list for admittance. I can't see the current "me" obsessed generation handling that very well! To be young, as you are, and also facing the responsibility for a wife and children, too, would be equally as stressful as being old and counting off the sunsets and sunrises. I am so very sorry for what has happened to you; however, I am proud of you for using your situation and this blog to share your experience and to educate those unaware of the costs involved in a major health event. Thank goodness you have health insurance!! And while I don't wish any harm on anyone, I would love to see the wool pulled away from the eyes of those who want to deny basic medical care to those less financially fortunate when one day in the future they are faced with something similar to your $500,000 ruinous situation. Are we destined to chose between being paupers or dying? I guess I just long for the good old days and the better side of America that I learned about in school many, many years ago. Norman Rockwell days. I'm not so proud of what I see now. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  2. Molecules and Fate

    Is there anything you can still trust?
    Yes: molecules move as they must;
    That’s always been true
    And it’s what they’ll still do
    Even after all humans go bust.