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Wednesday, 18 November 2009 14:10

When insurance falls short, out-of-pocket costs become rapidly out-of-reach

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As if dealing with the trauma of breast cancer wasn’t enough, Martha Yonce, 62, was also hit with a devastating $80,000 in out-of-pocket expenses for her surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Yonce, a Franklin resident, thought she had her bases covered with the equivalent of a state employee’s health insurance policy. She received the insurance through her husband, who was a science teacher at Macon Middle School at the time.

Yonce’s insurance company had agreed to pay 80 percent of the cost but left her to deal with the remaining 20 percent in whatever way she could.

Coming up with such a large sum of money proved to be a major struggle, as Yonce and her family neared the brink of bankruptcy and almost lost their home.

“We wiped out what savings we had,” Yonce said. “It just took everything we had. That was nine years ago, and we’ve never really recovered financially.”

To make matters even worse, Yonce and her husband were recently denied insurance coverage that would supplement Medicare due to pre-existing conditions, including her breast cancer, and his diabetes and heart problems.

Even though Yonce has been cancer-free for years, she said the worry about recurrence never goes away.

“Good days are days you don’t think about cancer,” said Yonce. “You know that if it recurs, you are going to have a tremendous financial burden. You’re going to do all you can to save your life and treatment costs money — even with insurance.”

Yonce said she recalled taking medication for nausea that cost $100 a pill, while other women went without because they simply could not afford it.

“The thought of somebody that’s kneeling at the toilet vomiting and there’s a medication out there that can help them and they can’t afford it, that’s sad, that really is,” said Yonce, who has actively been calling for health care reform in the past year.

Yonce has attended rallies and made frequent calls to representatives and fellow citizens in the past few months. She hopes that Congress will pass a health care bill that places a cap on out of pocket expenses.

Yonce said she was surprised by how many sad stories she came across while working at a phone bank. She once talked to a man who was asked to pay $900 cash for anti-rejection medication after receiving a kidney transplant and a woman who broke her hip but could not afford to go to the hospital.

Despite all the gloomy stories she’s heard, Yonce has managed to retain a sense of humor.

On a recent afternoon, Yonce prepared to go door-to-door to distribute flyers that featured a man named Vernon whose inadequate health insurance left him $28,000 in debt.

“This guy is not in as bad shape as me,” joked Yonce. “Vernon, you don’t know how good you’ve got it.”

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