Weeks after all my treatments ended, I got the bill for my radiation. Just the radiation. Not the tumor surgery, not the multiple scans taken of my body or the lab work completed before we got the ball rolling, not the consultations with specialists, not the surgery for the chemo-port implant, not the chemotherapy, not any of the countless medications. Trust me; I was billed separately for those.
My radiation alone cost two hundred and eighty-three thousand, seven hundred and eighty-seven dollars and twenty-five cents.
$283,787.25! Over a quarter of a million dollars! Who HAS that kind of money?
I lay twenty-three times in front of Big Blue Bertha for less than ten minutes each time. I quickly did the math: over $12,000 per session. Thank goodness I opted out of the last five sessions (which would have cost an additional $60,000+).
I stared at the bill, opened my mouth to object, and no sound came out. I experienced a rush of shock, denial, anger, depression, bargaining (eerily similar to some of the phases of GRIEF). And then I realized, the dollar amount I was staring at wasn’t what I actually owed; insurance would cover most of it. I started breathing again.
When the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) went into effect, I was one of the millions of Americans who had NO health insurance. In fact, I was completely uninsured for TWELVE years. Every medical expense I had during that time was paid for out-of-pocket.
I had pre-existing conditions: high cholesterol and a history of being on medication for depression. I was overweight, and although I didn’t smoke at all or drink much, I didn’t exercise much either. I had all these demerits held against me by those who make the calculations, and I was considered “high-risk.”
I was offered insurance, but it was completely unaffordable. I was a graduate student, working towards my Masters degree in Counseling Psychology during three of those years, and then I worked for free as an intern for two additional years.
During that phase of my life, the closest thing I had to health insurance was prayer. Every day I prayed nothing catastrophic would happen to me. I imagined that millions of uninsureds like me did the same.
Even after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, there were still millions of Americans who were without health insurance, still in a vulnerable lifeboat, conducting private negotiations with God, praying the waters wouldn’t get too rough.
I watched the countless failed calls for the repeal of Obamacare. Frankly, I didn’t get it. I could complain just as loudly as the next person that my premiums were way too high (and about to get higher, although not as high as they would have been pre-Obamacare), and that many of the treatment options I wanted to explore during my cancer were not covered by my insurance plan, and that “Customer Service” was often anything but.
But it was way better than having to sell my home in order to get treatment for cancer, which is exactly what I would have had to do if I had been UNinsured with a $283,787.25 hospital bill. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I had a home to sell. The enormity of my privilege was not lost on me. What about those who don’t have sellable assets to cover their medical expenses? I guess they put their hands out, asking friends and family for help. Or they just didn’t pay it and went bankrupt.
Someone’s child, someone’s parent, someone’s beloved partner,someone’s best friend dies. Real people, flesh and bone, walking the earth one day. Gone the next.
I imagined having no choice. Not because the disease was terminal, but because I couldn’t afford the life-saving treatment. In the United States of America. In 2016. This struck me as unconscionable, even obscene. The Affordable Care Act didn’t completely eliminate this horrific dilemma for every American family, but it certainly made things a little bit better for millions of us.
If anything, more people need to be covered. Medical expenses have skyrocketed. The way too powerful special interest groups – the insurance companies, Big Pharma and the AMA, to name a few – need to do the right thing (not the most profitable thing). Our families and fellow citizens need it and deserve it.
I’m willing to pay my share, even if it stings financially. The last thing I want to be is selfish or tight-fisted about this, because it is, literally, a matter of life or death. I get how, until it touches you personally, it’s easy to turn a blind eye, but we’re the United States of America and we can see past our individual, petty self-interests. Can’t we?