Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: mammograms

When the Health Care Blogger Becomes the Cancer Patient

The call came the day after my 48th birthday in April.

“The radiologist saw something suspicious on your mammogram from last week…an undetermined mass,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. “We’d like you to come in for an ultrasound so we can see better.”

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

During the ultrasound they assured me that it was probably nothing…that in most cases, it’s a benign lump and not cancer. Surely, I thought, as I scheduled a needle biopsy for a few days later, this would be the case for me as well.

But it was not the case. Once the results from the biopsy came back, I realized that I had become a cancer patient. I was now part of a community of more than one million other Americans who are diagnosed with cancer each year.

The days and weeks after that ultrasound and needle biopsy became a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, tests, and procedures, as well as surgery to remove the lump in my breast, along with several lymph nodes. As of this writing, I’m undergoing six weeks of daily radiation treatments, and soon will be starting drug therapies that will last for at least five and up to 15 years.

Just when I started to recover from the surgery, the bills started to roll in. I have what I thought was pretty good (but expensive from a premium standpoint) medical coverage under my husband’s workplace plan. But even with premiums that are far higher this year than we’ve ever had to pay in the past, the system demanded more of our money:

  • $334.43 for one ultrasound
  • $106.04 for another ultrasound
  • $35.49 for an oncologist office visit
  • $131.15 for a nuclear medicine injection prior to my sentinel node removal
  • $421.80 for my lumpectomy
  • $468.61 for lumpectomy prep work
  • $181 for the surgeon who removed the lump
  • $60 for post-surgery physical therapy
  • $737.45 for oncotype diagnosis test

These are just a few examples and don’t include charges relating to the 30 radiation treatments I’ll be receiving or the genetic testing being done (since cancer runs in the family).

While these out of pocket costs are certainly hard to swallow – I can think of a hundred other things I’d rather spend my money on – for my family, they are doable. We won’t have to skip a mortgage payment or a utility bill. We won’t have to dip into a child’s college tuition fund. We certainly won’t have to worry about having enough money for food.

But I know – from my work on this blog and with its main sponsor, the HealthWell Foundation – that many families living with cancer aren’t so lucky.

I had the opportunity to help HealthWell create a White Paper, “When Health Insurance is Not Enough: How Charitable Copayment Assistance Organizations Enhance Patient Access to Care,” which investigated the devastating effects of not being able to afford needed treatments for chronic and life-altering medical conditions. For some individuals and families, out-of-pocket expenses including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance can total thousands of dollars each month – much more than many people earn.

That’s not the case for me. I’m one of the lucky ones.

“I’m lucky” is a statement you don’t often hear from cancer patients, but it’s how I feel about my situation. I’m lucky that my cancer was caught early by an astute reading of my mammogram. I’m lucky that my specific type of cancer was deemed “curable” and didn’t spread to my lymph nodes or other organs. I’m lucky that my job as a freelance writer gives me the flexibility to go to doctor’s appointments when needed. And I’m lucky to be in a two-income household with no kids and the easy ability to pay our bills. For now.

Of course, this could all change in a heartbeat. My freelance assignments could dry up, which would impact our income. My husband could lose his job or become disabled. We could be hit with an unexpected and costly disaster like a house fire or a tree crashing through our roof. The cancer could come back.

I am, in effect, a heartbeat away from being in a position to need real financial help.

If I need help, I’m thankful that charitable copayment assistance foundations like the HealthWell Foundation exist. Cancer isn’t something you can put on the back burner until the time or money is right. Treatment is costly. Premiums and copayments are high. For the 29 million Americans with limited incomes and/or inadequate insurance, the toll can be devastating – physically, emotionally and financially.

That’s why I’m calling on readers of this blog to help. Your donation to the HealthWell Foundation, the American Cancer Society or other charitable assistance foundations really will make a difference. Maybe not for me personally, but certainly for the millions who aren’t as lucky as me.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Heroes Needed: Apply Within

We’re taking a departure today from our coverage of what works in American health care to ask for your help.

Patients want us to re-open our Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell, but we can’t successfully do that until we identify several key companies or organizations to partner with us in this effort.

When HealthWell’s Breast Cancer Fund was open, thousands of Americans battling breast cancer found new hope to live healthier lives. Nearly 17,000 insured breast cancer patients received the financial assistance they needed so that the surging cost of treatments was not a barrier to accessing critical care.

As HealthWell prepares to re-launch its massive Breast Cancer Fund, we are expanding our call to action. We are seeking partners to help us make a real, positive difference in the lives of insured patients who often struggle to afford critical treatment including medications.

By becoming a strategic partner with the HealthWell Foundation, your organization will help thousands of Americans who face medical bills they can’t afford.  Beyond the incredible satisfaction of knowing that you played a role in persuading your organization to help us re-open this fund, you’ll gain a cause marketing partner that will support your efforts to build and shape your brand to new audiences.

When you work with us to empower patients, you will leverage a unique opportunity to win exclusivity, naming rights and more.

With one in eight women in the U.S. expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime, the need for timely, life-sustaining care is outpacing our health system’s ability to assist patients. More and more Americans are in desperate need of immediate financial relief to afford deductibles, co-pays and premiums, yet many have few places, if any, to turn for assistance.

Women like Linda in Powell, Tenn., illustrate exactly why support for the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell is needed. When Linda realized just how expensive her breast cancer medication would be, she was scared. As a self-employed grandmother of two, she faced a $5,500 deductible for her insurance premium alone. Additional costs for mammograms, colonoscopy, endoscopy and lab work were all out-of-pocket and she wasn’t sure how she would make ends meet.

That is, until she discovered the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell, a lifeline that enabled her to afford the treatments she needed to remain cancer-free two years after her diagnosis.

“My patient advocate gave me a list of several foundations to contact which I did,” Linda said. “The first turned me down because they said we went $50 over our salary. The second turned me down because I had a deductible. Then I heard from HealthWell. We couldn’t believe we had found help. We just had to cry. I am so thankful. Every time I have my prescription filled it still amazes me. Not many good things have happened to us.”

The fund’s incredible track record of success in offering assistance to patients in need is exactly why we must reopen it now.

The HealthWell Foundation believes that no patient – adult or child – should go without health care because he or she cannot afford it. As demand for medical treatments increases while associated prices continue to spike, we want the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell to once again provide timely, critical copay and premium assistance and expanded services to breast cancer patients.

These services went far to ease the strain felt by patients covered under Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and employer-sponsored plans with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level.

Strengthening the financial safety net for more patients begins with teamwork. Together we can be part of the solution, harnessing our resources to make access to quality medical treatment a reality for more Americans battling breast cancer. Please contact us if your company may be interested in partnering with us to re-open this vital fund.

The HealthWell Foundation sponsors this blog because we are innovators in finding solutions to overcome hurdles in the American health care system. The thousands of women at work right now trying to clear the hurdle of breast cancer deserve everything we have to give.  Join us.  We have so much yet to do.  And you could make a difference in so many lives.

Categories: Cost-Savings