Breast Cancer Debt Creates Stress

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • I’m usually pretty upbeat when I’m writing a SharePost. I mean, why not? I have a family who cares about me, a job I love (actually, three jobs–and like children, I love them all in different ways), a cozy house, and enough money to keep food in the fridge and gas in the car. I have cancer, but it’s changed my life in so many important and wonderful ways, I would never complain about its downside: aches and pains, chemobrain and, of course, weight gain. But tonight I’m feeling cranky, and here’s why: I just got my third call of the evening from the credit bureau.

    Yeah, the credit bureau. You know, those friendly folks who call to remind you that you haven’t paid your bill at the hospital yet. Now, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure all three were from the credit bureau; two of them were mechanical hisses, possible precursor to one of those recorded messages from Sears telling you the repairman’s coming. OR maybe just the pause before the dreaded Credit Lady comes on and starts haranguing you. (I always wonder what they’re waiting for. Are they dialing your number while they’re still reprimanding some other poor soul, so they have to put you on hold for a few seconds while they finish?)  But one of them was definitely the credit bureau. I know.
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    They’ve called so often in the past six months, I recognize their introduction (“Hello, is this Peggy Hamel? I’m calling in regards to…”) When any caller uses my legal name–Peggy–I can be sure trouble is brewing.

    So she starts in, her voice like a tin can lid scraping across a blackboard. “Do you realize you owe Hospital X $1,764.23?”

    Yes, I certainly do recognize that figure. I’ve heard it repeated to me on the phone now for quite some months. Right down to the penny. Don’t worry, lady, I’ve got it memorized.

    “And how will you be paying that tonight?”

    HA. Like, if I could pay it, maybe I would have, just to get you off my back? What, I enjoy hearing from you guys three times a week? I love reliving that cancer experience, and all that it entailed, including this bill? I’ve really treasured the hours on the phone I’ve spent with the insurance company, trying to untangle the spaghetti-like mess of surgery bills, partial payments from insurance, and my own co-payments and deductible payments and payments for stuff that the insurance company, in its infinite wisdom, decided it wasn’t liable for?

    How will I be paying for that tonight? I put on my nice voice, and answer, “Well, I won’t be paying for that tonight.”

    “Oh, well in that case I’ll have to tell the hospital you’re refusing to cooperate,” she continues, her voice ratcheting up a notch in volume and speed, as well as taking on a nasty edge.

    “OK, you go ahead and do that,” I answer, more tired than angry.

    I’ve had this conversation many times. As she starts to elaborate on how I bear responsibility for this bill, I hang up. I’ve explained way too many times that I’m caught between the hospital and the insurance company, the hospital sending out the bills–hey, it’s not their fault, cancer costs what it costs–and the insurance company saying that even though I’ve met my deductible, they’re not liable for the bill. Talk about runaround: you look that word up in the dictionary, you’re going to find a picture of an insurance company.

  • And some of that $1,764.23, I do owe. I actually have the check written, in my desk drawer. Just as I was about to mail it, I ran into some financial reverses, and other bills–fuel oil, food, electricity–got first dibs on my shrunken paycheck. I totally intend to pay what I owe; and soon, too, just as soon as I get back on my feet financially.
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    But, in the meantime, as I field those regular nasty credit bureau calls, I wonder–do they have to be quite so rude on the phone? A little understanding wouldn’t hurt. We’re not all cheats and robbers trying to pull a fast one on the hospital you know, Ms. Credit Bureau Lady.

    Many of us are just regular people who got caught in an expensive bind, and are working every day to try to climb out of it. We don’t need the wolves baying at the door to remind us of our financial wounds.  

    Update: As it turns out, I finally paid the bill, but not soon enough: despite 30 years of spotless credit and always paying my bills on time, the federal government has decided that this one instance of being late with a bill has made me a bad credit risk.

    They’ve turned down my yearly application for a PLUS loan (the loan we middle-class parents take out to send our children to college, since we’re too “rich” for federal aid but in no position to pay for college expenses out-of-pocket). Amazing how cancer reaches its cold fingers into so many different areas of your life…

    There must be lots of you out there struggling with cancer not just emotionally and physically, but financially.

    Let’s Hear Your Gripes!

    It’s healthy to vent, and this is a great place to do it.

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Published On: April 24, 2007