His Cancer Bills Nearly Cost Them Their Home

Even with health insurance, this couple ended up in financial straits. But they may find relief in the new bill

Jana and Tom of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains both have health insurance, but like millions of other Americans the cost of coverage is putting them on the brink of bankruptcy.

Jana works a part-time administrative job; Tom works part-time for a construction company. They are both insured individually through their employers, but Tom’s premiums are exorbitantly high—more than $600 a month. Because he has liver cancer, Tom has no choice but to continue paying the premiums since being uninsured would surely leave them bankrupt from medical bills.

Tom and Jana, both 55, are just one example of the 30 percent of Americans who report having trouble paying their medical bills, according to a December, 2009, Kaiser Family Foundation study. And because of their income level, they are also among those that will benefit from subsidies to help pay their insurance premiums now that health care reform legislation has been passed.

Here is Jana’s story:

My husband and I are both covered individually through our jobs. The main reason we both have to work is that it’s the only way we can get health care. I have a chronic health condition but I am healthy and well. My husband has liver cancer. It’s managed now, but the prognosis is not good.

I used to be on my husband’s plan before I had coverage through my employer, but his coverage is much more expensive, with a higher deductible for the plan. The company that I work for is much larger so there is a lower deductable for the insurance plan and it costs less money. I’ve been trying to get him on my plan but he has not been approved yet. It can’t happen until I’ve been there two years. I hope it happens because that would help us out a lot. My husband pays $160 a week for health insurance, and that’s just his portion. Then the deductible is $3,500 dollars, so we’re not talking about a great health plan.

I pay between $200-$300 a month and my insurance has only a $500 deductible. That’s one of advantages of working for a larger company. My husband is only working 16 hours a week now. That’s because of his illness but also because of the economy and being in construction. So we’re kind of being hit from two different ways. Our current bring-home income is maybe $3,000 a month. Even saying that makes me cringe because that’s probably a fifth of what we’re used to seeing.

We are approaching retirement, and if we didn’t have to pay these premiums we could be paying down our debt. We own a home and are trying to benefit from the loan modification program. I tell everybody the worst thing to come of all of this would be if we were to lose our home. That would be just about the most devastating thing. But that’s the reality for many people. The number one reason for bankruptcies is doctor bills. I don’t care if you’re 20 or 60 or anything in between, the reason people are losing their homes to foreclosure is medical bills. It’s a very sad state of affairs that people are slammed with a health condition and medical bills and then lose the roof over their heads at the same time.

If my employment didn’t have to depend on the tight health care, we would probably be doing different things. The quality of his life, the life that he has remaining, would be more enjoyable if he could chose to do something that brought him more pleasure, but he can’t because of the health-care benefits. My husband is also a ski instructor, for people with special needs and he would love to do that full time, but the health benefits are not there for him, so he does that part time in addition to his other job.

Something is very broken and needs to be fixed for sure.

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