What’s Wrong with US Healthcare? Let’s Talk About Advil

What’s Wrong with US Healthcare? Let’s Talk About Advil

A Lump in the Road column
“Do you have any Advil with you?” a tech asked me. I was having a port installed. 
Prior to cancer treatment, my husband thought a port was a place to park a very big boat. I thought it was a delightful beverage to enjoy in moderation after a special dinner. In Northern California, where I lived, communities are surrounded by grapes that produce that strong syrupy treat.

But I was having a different kind of port that day, and in a way, it was a treat, too.

That day’s port was a little device planted under the surface of my skin that would allow medical professionals to inject me with the life-saving fluids I’d need over the course of my chemotherapy treatment. Those fluids would go through my port so my delicate veins wouldn’t have to be poked with needles every time I needed meds. Whoever came up with that idea was a genius.

The guy who installed my port looked like a construction worker in scrubs. “I actually used to be a contractor,” he told me. “Then I switched careers.”

The fact that this guy had been a builder was great comfort. I imagined him finessing a two-by-four to fit expertly into a window frame or measuring with precision expensive molding for someone’s high-end living room. If he could handle the mechanics of those projects, I felt sure he could install my port.

A few minutes later I was drifting off to a comfortable sedation, asleep and awake at the same time. I was vaguely aware of the activity going on around me, but I didn’t have a care in the world. It’s kind of a surreal experience.

When the port was in, and I was sleeping off the remainder of the drugs swirling in my head and through my blood, I heard the tech ask me again about Advil. The fact is that I always have Advil with me.

We’re a headache family. I started getting headaches when I was a kid, as did my husband. Our poor daughter is doomed to the same fate. Usually, if I can get an Advil at the earliest signs of pain, I can stave off a migraine.

So, I told the tech that I had some in my purse.

“Good,” he said. He knew our insurance situation was precarious. As self-employed middle-class rural dwellers, we were deep in Obamacare’s hole, and at any moment I feared I would be booted out of the hospital, cancer and all.

“If I give you an Advil, it’ll cost $26 for two. You didn’t hear this from me, but you should go ahead and take two of your own.” He handed me a plastic cup of luke-warm water, and I popped down two pills after he turned his head the other way.

On New Year’s Eve, 2013, I learned I had cancer. The next day, Obamacare kicked in, a policy which rendered my family’s health insurance invalid. That year, my husband and I traveled over 10,000 miles for treatment. I am profoundly grateful for the care I ultimately received, but that policy locked me out of treatment closer to home. In so many ways, my family will pay a permanent price tag for the ACA, and what it did to us at a terrible juncture in our lives.

When the dust settled and we were able to secure a new insurance policy, our rates tripled. And the coverage we have now is far inferior to that which we had before. Since Donald Trump has taken over the presidency, Republicans are scrambling to come up with a new law. Analysts predict it could have the same disastrous consequences that the first massive reform rendered. 

Given what happened to my family at the onset of Obamacare, of course I fear that I will once again be collateral damage of an arbitrary law that leaves small voiceless groups to fall between its cracks, a miserable place to be. 

While it’s just as impossible to understand this proposed law as the old policy, I know one thing for certain: I’ll vote for the policy that fixes the $26 Advils.

Without threatening democracy, without taking extreme partisan stands, I believe every one of us can agree on one thing. Advils shouldn’t cost that much.

A bottle of Port? Yes, $26 is a reasonable price. But two Advils? I get a headache just thinking about it.

All of us, even our lawmakers, know there’s a better way.

(Editor’s note: The Republican-led healthcare policy reform effort was set for a full House on March 24, but shelved when leaders realized it would not pass in its current form.)


Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.


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One comment

  1. Julie E. says:

    Just as this blogger is a self-employed, rural northern Californian diagnosed with breast cancer, I too fit these demographics and travel far for my care. (6500 miles in one year.) I too had to switch policies when the Affordable Care Act came in. It’s the best thing that could have happened to me regarding CA my diagnosis. I am continually grateful for the health insurance policy I was required to switch to and the amazing care I am receiving because of this Act. It has greatly improved my quality of life.
    The $26 Advil was overpriced long before the Affordable Care Act. It’s been that way in hospitals and ERs for decades. Have you ever talked to others who have been hospitalized in prior decades about their outrageous bills, most notably for Advil?
    Please don’t confuse issues and make the price of in-facility meds a political issue. It wasn’t the Affordable Care Act that did that. Please keep Breast Cancer News about breast cancer, and not make it a soap-box for pushing political policy. thank you.

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