U.S. cancer case the best? It is if you can pay for it…
Angela Kegler McDowell thought she was doing everything right.
A 38-year-old small business owner, she had bought her own personal health insurance and kept paying her premiums, even as they rose from $293 a month to $804 a month.
The insurance company said it had to raise her premiums when her breast cancer came back and she was forced to undergo expensive chemotherapy.
“When the renewal came up in January, they told me I was a high risk to insure and they were dropping my insurance,” McDowell told Reuters in an interview. “Even if I had a million dollars a month to pay for insurance, I couldn’t get it.” See her on video here in a related story, young adults.
McDowell has been lobbying her members of Congress to ask them to make sure the healthcare reform plan ensures that private insurance — sure to be part of any reform package –cannot drop patients if their coverage becomes too expensive.
Plans also need to be more affordable, says McDowell, who estimates she spent $42,000 out of pocket on her 20 percent co-pays and wiped out her family’s life savings even before her insurance company dumped her.
McDowell was struggling to hold her company together, battle cancer, and fight with her health insuance company– which she doesn’t want to name because she is still negotiating to be reinstated. “It was truly more than a medical battle. It was a financial battle,” she said.
Congress is considering ways to reform the U.S. healthcare system, which leaves 46 million people without health insurance at all but which also often fails people like McDowell, who did have health insurance and who was willing to pay even high premiums.
A national insurance plan for all, akin to the systems Britain, Canada and France have, is not even on the table — dismissed by conservatives as “socialized medicine”.
Studies have shown that these systems are cheaper per capita than the U.S. system, keep patients healthier by many measures and satisfy their customers.
But Congress is struggling to pay for reform with a budget already deep into deficit and an electorate unwilling to pay higher taxes. McDowell knows the precise language to use when lobbying. “We need an American solution,” she says.
Proponents of a market-based system say people would spend less if they knew, and had to pay, some of the costs.
McDowell has had to do this herself. She decides what follow-up care she needs to make sure her cancer has not returned based not on which test is best, but on how much it costs.
Positron emission tomography or PET scans are considered the best way to see if a tumor has reactivated. But McDowell has learned that a PET scan costs $7,000.
A CT scan – a computerized X-ray- costs $1,000 if you shop around. A mammogram costs $400 to $700. “It’s not as effective as a PET scan” at detecting cancer, McDowell said. “But I usually get the mammogram.”
She is unhappy with the choice.
“People shouldn’t have to choose between losing their house, losing their life savings, losing their business to save their life,” McDowell says.