Health Insurance Can Be a Major Challenge After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis
Last updated: May 2023
Anyone diagnosed with lung cancer knows the importance of having insurance. Many families are devastated by the overwhelming costs of treatment for cancer. Some lose their life savings, their home, or even end up filing bankruptcy. When I was first diagnosed, I was very fortunate. I worked at a university and had excellent coverage. My out-of-pocket expenses were capped at $1,000. My premium was very low because my employer covered most of it. I also had supplemental cancer insurance which was a huge bonus. So I received excellent health care at minimum cost.
Unexpected changes, unexpected stress
In addition to working fulltime at the university, I was enrolled in their fast-track MBA program. Shortly after my lung cancer diagnosis, there was a whirlwind of changes at my workplace, some as a result of my diagnosis and others unrelated. I withdrew from the MBA program to undergo treatment. My immediate supervisor retired, the dean of the school resigned, and the longtime university president retired. There was change at every level...not to mention the changes in my personal life due to my diagnosis and treatment.
It was extremely difficult working for my new supervisor. I later learned that her goal was to have me resign to reduce the department’s budget. In any other circumstance, I would have simply left my job and found another one elsewhere…except for the fact that now I had lung cancer. I needed health insurance, and now had a pre-existing condition. Day after day, I would come home to my husband distraught and discouraged. One evening, I said to him, “I feel as if I am worshiping the golden calf of insurance.”
The very next morning the entire department was laid off. Frankly, I was relieved. But I also now faced the challenge of finding insurance.
Where do I find insurance?
There were not many insurance options available to me then. That was before the Affordable Care Act. I applied for insurance but was denied because of my pre-existing condition, even though by this time I had no evidence of disease.
Eventually, I learned about a relatively new insurance option for people like me with a history of cancer, or other serious diseases, called the high-risk pool. The high-risk pool offered otherwise uninsurable patients with options for coverage. We had a choice of paying low monthly premiums and high out-of-pocket expenses, should medical need arise. Or we could select high monthly premiums and low out-of-pocket expenses.
A changing health insurance landscape
I loved the program! Halfway through my second year on the program, they cancelled it because the Affordable Care Act was going into effect the following year.
My premium skyrocketed. So did my out-of-pocket deductions. It’s been going up ever since. I am not wealthy, so I receive a subsidy. I hate that fact, but the cost has gone up so dramatically, there is no way I can pay the premium.
Last year, all but one of the insurance carriers in my state, including mine, withdrew from the Marketplace. I had to change from United Healthcare to Blue Cross Blue Shield. In 2019, BCBS will also withdraw from the Marketplace.
I am 63 years old. Starting in January 2018, my insurance premium will be $1,462.27 per month. That is for me, alone. My husband has Medicare coverage because he is 76 years old.
An uncertain future
I suspect many lung cancer survivors/patients who are not old enough to be on Medicare may be struggling or worrying about what will happen regarding our insurance. I have no insight into what will happen but, for me, I would like to see the return of a national high-risk pool.
If you are concerned about your insurance, contact your Congressman to share thoughts about your situation. They need to know. If you are not sure how or who to contact, use this link to find your U.S. Senators and Congressperson.
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