Monday, October 06, 2008

October 6, 2008 - Got Cancer? Better Keep Your Job.

This excerpt from a recent news article tells a story that’s – sadly – all too common today, in the dysfunctional world of American medical insurance:

“Most experts acknowledge that people who have cancer or have recently beat it have a tough time finding individual coverage – a fact Angela Clay of Atlanta discovered the hard way.

Clay, 33, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma eight years ago, while she was living in South Carolina. She survived, thanks to a regimen of chemotherapy, radiation and stem cell treatment, for which she was covered through her job at the time. After she moved to Atlanta in 2001, she had coverage through her job as a teacher in a day care center.

Then another center offered her an assistant manager position in 2004 – a step up with better pay but no benefits. Clay figured she'd simply buy insurance. ‘I'd go online once a month and fill out applications,’ she says. The numerous insurers she has tried turned her down, she says, and one told her she had to be in remission for 10 years to receive health insurance. ‘I've got more than two years to go,’ Clay says.

Clay still has no coverage and so must put off nonemergency medical care, including the follow-up she needs to be sure the cancer hasn't returned. ‘I'm very worried,’ she says. ‘I know I need checkups for my health. It makes me feel vulnerable.’ She sees a doctor only for emergencies, such as a severe boil she developed in January. (She's still paying off the $800 it cost to have the doctor drain it, at $20 a month.) Clay fears the stress of living without insurance will further harm her health. ‘It's hard for me to focus because I have this on my mind,’ she says.”
(Jonathan Cohn, “When you are denied health insurance,”, October 6, 2008)

This is a difficult position for cancer survivors to be in. You’ve gone through treatment, you’ve been declared to be in remission, you’re feeling fine – but, you’d better think twice about taking that new job, because it means switching medical-insurance carriers. You do that at your own risk – maybe even at risk of your life. Once your new employer’s insurance carrier gets wind of your medical history, they’ll drop you like a hot potato (or, they’ll accept you only if you agree to a hefty pre-existing condition exclusion – which amounts to pretty much the same thing).

Cancer survivors in remission yearn for nothing more than to get on with their lives. But, if they are in an occupation in which advancement typically happens by switching to a new employer, getting on with their work lives may be an impossible dream. Because of the pre-existing condition shell game, their cancer history has effectively doomed them to give up all hope of advancing in their profession.

It’s just one more example of the numerous cruel “gotchas” that are lying in wait for cancer survivors, in the dark recesses of our broken healthcare-funding system.

I’d love to hear the Presidential candidates respond to a case-study like Angela Clay’s story, explaining how their respective health-care plans will prevent this sort of abuse from happening.


Stushie said...

It's immoral, inhuman, and even criminal, Carl. I lived in Britain for almost 40 years and cancer patients didn't have to pay for treatment. Coverage under the NHS was automatically given.
One day, the politicians will get it right and outlaw insurance companies who do not offer cover automatically.

Carl said...

I know. I lived in Britain, too - though for considerably less than 40 years. I was covered by National Health. Despite all the lies that are spread in this country about so-called "socialized medicine," the British system WORKS - far better than ours.

Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...

Thanks for bringing this issue to attention. Sharing her story helps highlight the magnitude of the problem for an individual.
Salt on the wound...

With hope, Wendy

Anonymous said...

I thought Bill Clinton was responsible for the portability policy -- where you could take your insurance with you from job to job. Am I missing something?

Carl said...

I believe the HIPAA regulations apply only to someone moving from one employer-provided health plan to another. In the case cited in the article, the person moved from an employer who provided health insurance to one who did not. The person found that it was nearly impossible to find adequate insurance as an individual, on the open market, because of pre-existing condition clauses.

HIPAA is good, but it only applies to certain situations. Pretty much the story of health insurance in the USA: pretty good for those who have it, but woe to you if you don't.

Susan C said...

Even HIPAA requires two years without treatment for a pre-existing condition. This is unrealistic for those of us with life-long diseases.

The job is not the only thing that cancer patients need to hold on to. Divorce can be devastating when the spouse carries the insurance.

Rehab Mommy said...

This is incredibly sad. As a nation we should be taking care of the ill citizens. This makes me sick.

FREE Medical eBooks said...

well this is really a bad thing