Friday, August 13, 2010

Cancer's Price Tag

Semi-Private Room at Sloan-Kettering
1275 York Avenue (Manhattan)
6 days @ $3,650 per day = $21,900 total

So far, I've written about the physical, psychological and spiritual toll of cancer; but how much does cancer cost in hard dollars and cents? From my first MRI on February 17, 2010 thru my second surgery on July 19, 2010, my doctors' bills and medical tests totaled a whopping $119,406.77 . The most expensive item, of course, was the right hemicolectomy, which cost $44,119.76 for the surgery and six-day hospital stay at Sloan-Kettering (worth every penny). Out of curiosity, I looked up what a luxury hotel room in Manhattan would cost for six days; and found out it was much, much cheaper:

The Atrium Suite at The London Hotel in NYC
151 West 54th Street (Manhattan)
6 days @ $1,234 per day = $7,404 total

This just highlights the staggering cost of good medical care. According to Time Magazine, family health insurance premiums have risen over 131% since 1999, and Kaiser currently estimates that health care premiums for an average family cost in excess of $13,000 a year.

I'm only 36-years old. I regularly exercise and maintain a healthy weight; I don't smoke, drink, or do recreational drugs of any kind. If I was a betting man (which I'm not - don't gamble either), I probably wouldn't spend the money to become self-insured if my employer didn't provide health care.

This is the position many Americans find themselves in - wondering whether or not to spin the roulette wheel and see if they can scrape by without coverage. In 2009, it's estimated that 46.3 million Americans did not have any health insurance, and nearly 60 million, or one in five, had gaps in their coverage over the course of the year (CDC June Report, 2010).

Now I'm not going to preach politics, or debate the merits of a government sponsored universal health care system. I'll simply say this - that I'm one of the lucky ones with good coverage, and consequently will only have to pay a few hundred dollars of the $119,406.77 total bill out of my own pocket. And as the bills keep rolling in - for follow-up visits, in-home nursing, and CT scans - I realize how lucky I am that I can make decisions based on what's best for my health instead of on what I can afford.

Gandhi once said "the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its most vulnerable are treated." The thing that really bothers me is that somehow the interests of the insurance companies have been placed above the interests of some of our most vulnerable citizens: the seriously ill.

Under my plan, out of the $119,406.77 billed, my insurance company only had to pay $58,581.81. That means that a company (whose entire existence is dependent upon generating profit) was essentially charged $60,824.96 less than I was, for lifesaving care. That just doesn't seem right. I don't blame the politicians, or the doctors, or the pharmaceutical companies; I blame us - a nation of some of the most creative and resourceful minds in the world - for not coming up with a solution. Doctors deserve to be paid, and patients deserve to have access to care. We can do better than this.


  1. Great post!! And so true. I was in a similar, very fortunate position that I happened to have a job with insurance that covered the majority of my expenses (as of right now, they total $219,000) Had my illness occurred the year before I would have been uninsured and would never had been able to have access to the specialists I needed to see. Every time I get an EOB from my insurance I think about what people who don't have insurance must face. Our surgeries were necessary and saved our lives. I can't imagine having to also think about how much everything costs and whether or not I can afford to be treated. Healing should be everyone's top priority.

  2. Agreed. I'm ready for socialized medicine. actually. This is all getting a little ridiculous.

  3. Wow Stephanie! It's just crazy how much it all costs. Maybe some of the funds that are raised through various charity events ( Race for a Cure; Avon Breast Cancer Walk etc ) could go into a fund for patients without medical insurance? Just a thought.

  4. Marlena, we're still rolling the dice. Approaching 60 and neither Holly or I have insurance. At this point still relatively healthy if you discount high blood pressure and cholesterol. Fortunately we have a fall back position of socialized medicine in New Zealand. My niece went through a kidney transplant and many visits to the hospital and it didn't cost a penny. A few years ago we watched a program on PBS that compared health care in several developed countries including the US. It concluded that although no system was perfect, the US was the only country that a sickness could result in bankruptcy. Something definitely needs to change. Alan

  5. Alan - sounds like a PBS special every American should watch!

  6. I went through discovery and removal of a Carcinoid tumor (under 2 cm) without insurance 12 years ago. We have never recovered financially.

    The reason people without insurance pay so much is because what the insurance companies, medicare, medicaid and people who claim bankruptcy don't pay is shifted to the people that pay for their own care.

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