This time of year, I always remember New Year’s Eve 2014.
I wore a silver skirt that shone like aluminum foil, blue earrings that lit up like tiny glowing jewels, and a black sweater that glimmered like the fur of a kitten, soft and irresistible. Underneath that sweater, I could still feel the icy slab of the mammogram I endured earlier in the day.
And in my head, like an echo, I heard the tech say from behind her screen that she knew where I could get “cheap chemo.”
I was the designated driver that night, so while my friends passed around charming pink cocktails almost as cute as my outfit, my brain was sober enough to keep replaying words I kept to myself that night. Otherwise, it was a great party.
The following day, Obamacare kicked in, and when I tried to make an appointment with a doctor, I was told, over and over again, that because of the Affordable Care Act, my insurance policy was flagged with a new three-digit code that rendered it invalid. Not a single doctor would see me.
Ten days later, my husband Gary tucked three crisp $100 bills into his shirt and drove me to an oncologist, the only one who agreed to an appointment and on the condition that we bring cash.
That was another memorable day. I don’t recall my outfit, but I do remember that austere office. Fluorescent light fixtures. A dusty plastic plant in a cheap brown pot. Vinyl chairs that reminded me of the Greyhound bus station back in Missouri, where I grew up. That doctor told me I’d be dead in three months if I didn’t get chemo. Then he said there was no way my family could afford chemo. And even if we could, I’d be stuck with a “frankenboob.”
I wanted our three hundred bucks back.
That was four years ago. Gary found me the treatment I needed, and we logged more than 10,000 miles driving to and from appointments.
Then, last month, we received a letter about our health insurance. If we do nothing, it said, our monthly premiums will increase by 60 percent. For our family, that increase puts our yearly cost at $30,000, not including prescriptions, vision, or dental.
When the letter came in, my family and I had just lost a house in a wildfire. It was our daughter’s 14th birthday. Christmas was around the corner, and my two sisters were in town, a rare treat because they both live far away.
But Gary and I set all that stuff aside and studied health insurance options. Because, like most middle-class families, we can’t afford $30,000 a year for crappy coverage. And the law gives people like us a short window to research choices and make a decision. Otherwise, a decision is made for us.
“What do you think, Honey,” my husband asked. “Am I more likely to need cheap doctor visits or 20 percent co-pay for open heart surgery? And should we pay $250 more per month for a lower deductible or roll the dice and save it, in the hope that we don’t get in a car accident?”
“What if you have a heart attack while you’re being smashed by a bus?” I asked back. “Which plan would be best then?”
We read the bewildering options. What level: bronze, silver, gold? It’s not even the Olympics. We discussed payment options in bed at night when we should have been enjoying pillow talk. Eventually, like trying to figure a way around the stacked odds at a Las Vegas casino, we made our choice, cancer being the driving factor in our decision-making.
Then we had to check that our choice would be accepted in the three medical facilities we use. Nope, not quite — one takes a PPO, another an HMO, and the third an EPO. Start over. What’s a POS? And on it went, late into the night. In the end, we each got different insurance plans from different companies. My husband vowed to get a corporate, state, or federal job with benefits.
But he loves being self-employed. Besides, like a lot of entrepreneurs, he’d be a terrible employee. At least that’s one choice that’s off the table.
The good news is that my countdown is on. In two years, my risk for breast cancer statistically returns to normal. It’ll be no higher than any other woman wearing an impossibly cute skirt that shines like tin foil in a spotlight.
In the meantime, I find myself reflecting again this January on the anniversary of my diagnosis, the one that happens to coincide with the nation’s game-changing healthcare policy.
Cancer comes with weird moments — fleeting, profound conversations with strangers in waiting rooms. Breathtaking dashes of clarity when the world seems to be unfolding exactly as it should. Celebrations of life juxtaposed with brushes with death.
But, for me, cancer also comes with former President Barack Obama. I’ve never met the guy, but I have a weird relationship with him that’s all tied up with January, insurance, and cancer.
So again this year, I raise my glass. Cheers, Obama. Although you’re not stuck using the policy you created, I wish you and yours the happiest of new years.
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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