When my aunt was diagnosed with cancer, it was clear that she would never be rid of her cancer, that she would die from it, it was just a matter of figuring out which treatment regimen would hold the cancer at bay for the longest amount of time. Ange tackled many issues during the last 17 months of her life, one of those being her finances.
While in the hospital receiving her first round of chemo she encountered many health care providers. Many of whom knew who she was as a patient, not who she was as a person. A person unable to work, who lived by herself and did not drive, but was fiercely independent. While she was in the hospital we were trying to figure out if she could go home, how she was going to manage her life, and what she wanted to do with the time she had left. No one questioned or talked about how much her treatments were going to cost. After a few weeks the bills made their almost daily appearance in her mailbox. She was diligently paying these bills with her life savings.
Fast forward to her third round of outpatient chemo. Ange was speaking to a provider and mentioned that she was having a really hard time paying the medical bills that were constantly being delivered to her mail box. At this point her savings was quickly depleting and she was still unable to work. “No one told you about our financial assistance office?” NOPE! Ange walked over to the office and was given paperwork to fill out. The cancer center where she was receiving treatment would cover a portion of the cost of her treatments. It was a relief, sort of. Let’s not forget that your other bills don’t stop because you have cancer.
Next came the bill for thousands of dollars to pay for the injection she received after each round of chemo. No one had told her that the medication was completely covered if you filled out another set of paperwork. Why hadn’t this been mentioned to her? Luckily, my aunt had contacted the company through their website and found out this information, on her own.
My aunt chose to stop treatment 2 months before her death. When she was being assessed by a hospice nurse for care the insurance coverage of her care was spoken about at length. What would be covered completely, what would need to be paid for out of pocket, etc. This transparency put my aunt at ease. She was able to spend those last days not worrying about the cost of her care because she had known exactly what to expect. This was one of the most beautiful gifts she had been given.
Being sick is costly and time consuming. I think about patients I took care of and I think about my own family members and the amount of time spent trying to maneuver the bills you get for your care. In the least, I think it is frustrating. My aunt, had she known during her care that she had options for help, may have been more at ease and would not have had to spend so much time figuring out what the bills were for and how she was going to pay for them.
Karen practiced as an acute care nurse on a medical-oncology unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for several years. She joined OncoLink as an Educational Content Specialist in 2014. In her blog she shares stories about her personal experiences with cancer, both on the floor and in her personal life.