In this post by Madame X, she talks about how to deal financially with a devastating medical diagnosis. I can speak from personal experience in this. Here’s my story.
In August of 2005, I started a new job. It was part time, no benefits, with the potential for full time. At the time, I only had the Family Planning benefit offered through Medicaid. I was feeling great, and just needed to see the gynecologist once a year. But at the end of the month, I noticed a lump in my neck. I figured my lymph nodes were just a bit swollen because of a change in environment. Well, October rolled around, and it was time for my annual girl exam. When asked if there was anything else that concerned me with my health, I mentioned the lymph node in my neck that was still swollen. The nurse practitioner told me that I should go to a doctor other than a gynecologist to have it looked at. I explained that I didn’t have any health insurance and she found me a doctor who worked with the local hospital.
Turns out this hospital had a financial assistance program that is based on how much money you make annually. Since I made under the limit, whatever it was at the time, I qualified for 100% free medical care. It worked out great until the doctor told me that he wanted me to have a CT scan and an appointment with a surgeon. This point made me nervous and I met with my employer and told them that I needed to have health insurance before the condition, whatever it was, was diagnosed. I knew they were going to make me full time, but I didn’t know when. This kinda lit a fire under their ass.
I got the health insurance to be effective the day I had my CT scan scheduled, December 1, 2005. It worked out well because the hospital told me that even though I had insurance, their program would still pick up the remainder of the bill (copays). The program was good from November 2005 to November 2006. I had the meeting with the surgeon on December 12. He was concerned about the results of the CT scan and sent me for a biopsy, or FNA (fine needle aspiration). I had that done on December 23, and on December 29th, I got a call from the surgeon. He wanted to see me the next day. I was concerned because my follow up appointment wasn’t for another week.
I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer on December 30, 2005. The surgeon had booked the operating room for January 2 2006 and I had to be there. I went to work, I work at a doctor’s office, and tried to hold it together after the appointment. It was hard, especially since all the girls wanted to know how it went. Of course I started crying and had to tell everyone that I was having surgery on Monday and that I’d need some time off. My employer was very understanding and told me to take my time coming back. They let me “borrow” my vacation time so that I could get paid for the time off. I’m pretty sure I had Stage III Papillary Thyroid Cancer.
It was hard to face everything, especially since less than 10 weeks after my surgery, I needed more time off. Part of the treatment for Thyroid Cancer is radioactive iodine treatments. I had one of those in March, and in April, I found another lump in my neck. At this point, I was still recovering from my first surgery. I had gotten bronchitis in April, which required another two days off.
June 30, 2006 I had my second surgery. This time it was at a hospital that didn’t have a financial hardship program. I was concerned that I was going to have a $500 copay for this surgery. (It was covered by the hospital the last surgery.) Thankfully, I didn’t require a hospital stay longer than one day, and they coded the surgery as a 23-hour outpatient procedure. That didn’t require the $500 copay. If it did, they offered 10% prepayment benefit if paid the day of the procedure. (copay would have been $450) My father had offered to cover it and I told him I would pay it back. Thank goodness I didn’t need it.
So, to answer Madame X’s question….I talked to the hospital and asked what programs are available for people that didn’t have insurance. Most hospitals have programs such as this. Make sure you ask. You don’t get what you don’t ask for.