Saturday
Apr282012

13. Home Economics

Dealing with cancer takes a heavy toll on you physically, emotionally and spirtually. But it's a financial battle as well. From medical costs to the loss of income, dollars play a big, big role. Going into my experience, I wasn't sure how things would play out moneywise. Would my health insurance cover my scans, tests, chemotherapy drugs, surgeries, ER visits, hospital stays, rehabitation, in-home care, and physical therapy? And if so, how much of the costs? At the same time, I wondered what would happen to my income. After all, I wasn't exactly logging hours at work.

Everyone who has cancer faces these same questions. That's why I did a lot of research and fact-finding, often with the help of Kate, to better understand my situation. Since I knew my salary would go down and medical costs go up, my first action was to turn off some of my automatic savings. For instance, I pay down my mortgage every month. So I turned that off. I also reduced my 401(k) contributions. Both actions boosted my cash flow.

Still, my primary concern wasn't preserving cash in my checking account. It was health insurance. If I lost my entire salary for several months, I knew I had savings to back me up. But if my health insurance wasn't good enough, then I would be exposed to more medical costs, which soared into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Fortunately, I was lucky. Boy, was I lucky. All my doctors were on my health insurance plan from Aetna. The chemo drugs, which cost thousands of dollars per session, were covered. My surgeries were covered. Even a large portion of other medical treatments. I ended up paying a few thousand dollars for the surgeries. PET scans were not covered because they were seen as experimental. And Walgreens drugs and doctors' visit co-pays certainly added up. But all told, I got off easy.

Medical costs depleted part of my bank account, but only part. What about monies coming in? Here, I lucked out again, working for an employer, Freddie Mac, with a great disability program. For the first 90 days of my leave, I was covered by short-term disability and paid my full salary. After 90 days, which occurred right after my chemo treatments ended, I was placed on long-term disability. Here, my pay would be reduced to 60 percent of my salary. But each year, my benefits program allowed me to buy an additional 10 percent for a few bucks a pay period. And each year, I said why not? So my pay declined to just 70 percent of my normal salary.

I also got something else: a savvy case worker, Jasmine. When I talked with her after my post-chemo PET scan, and that I would have roughly a two-month wait until surgery, Jasmine came up with a plan. When I felt up to it, she asked, why not do some work from home, even for just a week or so? Why was this significant? Because returning to work and then leaving again would trigger a second short-term disability period, where my salary would return to 100 percent for another 90 days. And that's what I did. I have great people that I work with, and I was able to work on an external relations business plan for my division head, Hollis. It took portions of a few weeks to develop the plan, almost all the work performed at home.

My experience taught me a few things. I was incredibly fortunate. Fortunate to have great health insurance. Fortunate to have great benefit programs at work. Fortunate that loss of income and large medical costs did not devastate my family's financial condition. Of all these, the most important is the absolute need for quality health insurance. You simply don't want people to forgo medical treatments or procedures due to inadequate insurance. As a society, we're not there yet. And that's a sin. Also, now that I have a pre-existing medical condition, I fear that the political process will back away from the protection I have due to President Obama's health care reform. As if I didn't have enough to be scared about.

But one event gave me encouragement. Kate and I were on a walk one day, talking about the uncertainty we were facing, including our financial situation. I told her that there were so many unknowns in my medical condition, and so many procedures still to go through, it was difficult to fully understand them, much less take action. But on finances, I felt oddly calm. When all is said and done, I said, finances are just a bunch of numbers. Whether they are high or whether they are low isn't the most important thing. What is is that we would be together to figure them out. Kate smiled. We hugged. And I knew God was watching over me.

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