Breast Cancer: A Living Nightmare for the Uninsured

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Imagine a woman who feels a lump in her breast. She dismisses it as something to do with her period. But it doesn't go away. In fact, it seems to be getting larger. Is it breast cancer? Maybe if she ignores it it'll go away. But what if it's cancer? It can't be cancer. She can't afford to have cancer. She doesn't have health insurance. She's sure that cancer treatment would cause her to lose her car, her home... everything.


    I have a friend, a single mother, whose health insurance doesn't cover BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing. Her mother had breast cancer; her sister died of breast cancer. She has breast cancer. She has a 17-year-old daughter. She can't afford to be pay for the genetic testing that might give her daughter critically important information: how high is her risk for breast cancer? What steps should she take to avoid it?

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    I know a woman who had health insurance, yet the program was so convoluted, so bureaucracy-bungled, that she was forced to charge thousands of dollars worth of life-saving hormone therapy drugs to her credit card, in hopes of being reimbursed. Reimbursement took forever; the credit card interest mounted. Soon her debt was discouraging, and scary. That woman was me.


    Uninsured? Under-insured? Caught up in a frustrating tangle of insurance-hospital co-pays, deductibles, and treatments carrying this heart-sinking label: "Patient's responsibility"? You're not alone. Millions of people in the United States find themselves financially devastated due to medical treatment. In fact, medical debt is one of the chief reasons given for people declaring bankruptcy.


    What's a woman to do? Well, first of all, if you're lucky enough to have health insurance, you can help your uninsured sisters by casting a vote in November for the Presidential candidate most likely to make sure that every American can afford good health. Which candidate is that? Check our HealthCare '08 for a quick look at where each candidate stands on health insurance.


    And if you're not insured, there's help out there. No woman needs to go untreated for breast cancer because she can't afford it. Starting with free mammograms, continuing with no-cost wigs and prostheses, and covering many other kids of treatment and adjuvant services, there are federal and private organizations out there that will help. You just need to know how to access them. Take a look at our rundown of programs for underserved women with breast cancer, including uninsured and low-income women.
Published On: February 11, 2008