Health Care Costs

As the health care debate continues, I wanted to look back at the costs of treatment for my wife’s cancer, as well as what was and wasn’t covered, and how our insurance and financial situation could have so easily bankrupted us.

I started by pulling up the total medical charges she accrued from December of last year through the end of August, when she passed away. That total came to $1,888,934.72

We were fortunate to have very good health insurance coverage. Of that total, we paid $1811.24 out of pocket in co-pays. (This doesn’t count all the other expenses, like food and transportation and lodging as we went back and forth to various hospitals, and so on.)

In other words, without health insurance, we would have been on the hook for close to two million dollars of medical bills over the course of nine months.

Back in 2015, when Amy was working full time at CMH, we decided I would try to quit my day job and write full-time. She would provide the salary and benefits, while I would bring in all that shiny author coin. Only my bosses at the day job didn’t want me to go, so they worked out a quarter-time position where I’d be able to work primarily from home. It meant a small but steady paycheck, and thanks to a clause in the Affordable Care Act, I was able to continue getting our health insurance coverage through my own job.

Why is that important? Because Amy’s benefits – vision and dental – ended in February 2019, because she hadn’t been working. On account of her being hospitalized with cancer.

Let’s assume things went as we’d planned. Assume we were on her health insurance. She’d been working full time for years, doing everything “right.” But then she got sick and couldn’t work. 2-3 months later, she lost her insurance.

Looking at the total charges for March through August, we would have been on the hook for $930,076.20 in medical bills.

The alternatives would have been either COBRA coverage, or else finding a plan on the Health Insurance exchange that provided something close to what we had.

COBRA coverage for our vision and dental after we lost Amy’s insurance for those was about $150/month. That stung, but compared to the medical numbers, I’m not gonna complain too much.

Equivalent health insurance coverage for our family, either through COBRA or the exchange, would have been around $2000/month. Better than having to pay a million in medical bills out of pocket, but how many people do you know who can afford an extra $2000/month in unexpected expenses?

Keep in mind, lymphoma is one hell of a preexisting condition. Without protections for those conditions, I’d have been stuck running a million-dollar medical GoFundMe.

I saw a Facebook friend the other day talking about how much he liked and wanted to keep his private insurance. Unfortunately, as I learned this year, employer-based coverage can disappear when you need it most. What’s the point of having great health insurance that only insures you as long as you don’t get too sick?

As horrible as this year has been, we were fortunate when it came to our health insurance. Lots of people aren’t. More than half a million families in the U.S. file for bankruptcy every year because of medical bills. Then there are those who are forced to ration their medicine or forego health care altogether.

We need to do better.