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Thursday, July 17, 2008

I became poor trying to save her: Unaffordable cancer care

After Dave Williams learned in April that the mass in his neck was malignant, his doctor referred him to a local cancer center. At his appointment, he was stunned at what he heard. "They said, 'We're looking at $30,000 of treatment, and we need $20,000 upfront,'" says Dave, 62, of Beesville, Texas. I don't have that kind of money."

For the retired landscape designer, the hospital's demand was an especially heavy blow, since he had recently paid off $273,000 in out-of-pocket costs for his ex-wife's care for ovarian cancer (his employer-sponsored health plan refused to cover her because she had cancer when he enrolled). "I became poor trying to save her, but she died," he says. He now lives in a trailer on a friend's property.

He applied for "charity care" at other hospitals but was rejected because he has saved about $10,000 in a 401(k) retirement savings account. "They all asked for a lot of money upfront before they would do anything to help me," he says. Dave is still exploring his options.

Advice to people with ruinously high healthcare expenses: Almost no one pays the full retail amount of a hospital's charges. The typical insurance plan gets a discount of about 60%, according to Sid Kirchheimer, so negotiate aggressively, or get someone who can.

Read a story of how universal health insurance has helped people who have found it hard to pay for their care.

Thanks to Sid Kirchheimer for the source article in the July-August issue of AARP Bulletin.

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