Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Wednesday

May 14, 2014

Cost of cancer compounds stress

TRAVERSE CITY – Robin Shattuck had no health insurance in February when she received word she’d been diagnosed with leukemia.

Her treatments piled up bills -- $25,000 worth -- before her insurance plan kicked in on April 1.

“I’m at Munson more than I’m at home,” Shattuck said. “I don’t have time to call all these doctor offices and let them know the situation and why I can’t pay the bills.”

Cancer’s toll is more than physical. Patients take on deductibles and co-payments while often needing to slow or stop working during treatment, and have low reserves of the energy needed to apply for help.

Munson Medical Center’s new take on cancer care may help. Munson is building the Cowell Family Cancer Center, a new facility that will bring all cancer treatment to one spot just north of the hospital, allow specialists to better collaborate on treatment and give patients financial and emotional guidance.

Clara Lambert and Andrea Cassell started as oncology financial navigators in October to help patients decipher insurance and find help from charitable foundations.

Many large foundations help with specific cancers or medicines, and local foundations such as The Leelanau Cancer Fund, the Women’s Cancer Fund and Munson’s General Cancer Fund can fill the gaps. Lambert and Cassell already saved the hospital $506,412 and found more than $1.3 million to help patients pay bills.

“I believe that part of patient-centered care is developing a financially sustainable program,” said Christa Kiessel, oncology service line director at Munson Medical Center. “We have to be responsible in how we deliver care so we’re here for the patients. We don’t want to put ourselves in jeopardy of not being able to keep our programs going.”

Kiessel said finances are often cancer patients’ biggest worry.

“You tend to think you’re just adding the cost of cancer treatment but it’s a greater impact on your finances,” Kiessel said. “It’d be one thing if there was no change in ability to work and there was not the change in the household income, but you add thousands of dollars of cancer treatment on top of that.”

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