The True Cost of Cancer

Since I started writing here, most of the questions I've gotten are about the cost of my treatment. I understand people's curiosity; the debate over the price of American health care has essentially hijacked American domestic politics since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

I can only speak to my personal experience as a fully insured, otherwise healthy 20-something with no dependents. My medical bills may not be a great standard for the average person, but they can answer one question: how much does it cost to make a person with stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma well again?

The $2,593 I currently owe covers, among other things, three rounds of chemotherapy, a week-long hospital stay, a biopsy, an endoscopy and a CAT scan. Roughly speaking, having cancer has cost me about $33 per day.

What is the most stunning are the bills my insurance company has picked up for me. Did you know a 5-minute finger prick costs nearly $50? The list of ridiculous fees is seemingly endless, but here are some of my favorites:

  • Ten minute pre-chemo check-in with my oncologist every three weeks: $353.25
  • Twice weekly finger prick to check my blood count: $42.73
  • A one week stay in the hospital (just the room): $25,509.46
  • And during that stay, a quick daily visit from a doctor and his interns to ask how I was pooping: $332.66/day

The bottom line for those who've asked: with insurance, cancer is expensive but manageable. Without it, it would be impossible.