P.J. and David Frick have faced cancer twice in the last four years, and the financial hit has only gotten worse.
P.J. worked in banking, then went back to school so she could work in school libraries. She was on her husband’s insurance policy through CorVel, a risk management company, when she got a Stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis at the end of 2011.
Her mastectomy and chemotherapy maxed out the 2012 out-of-pocket limit of about $7,500 on David’s policy. They had enough saved to cover that.
Over the next two years, the out-of-pocket exposure climbed to $11,000.
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On Dec. 1, 2014, David Frick awoke with abdominal pains so severe his wife rushed him to the emergency room at Carolinas Medical Center-Waxhaw. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
He was hospitalized for a week, had a series of expensive scans and began chemotherapy. His prognosis is grim: 99 percent of people with his diagnosis die within five years.
Within the month, he had hit the $11,000 cap – and it started all over in January. The couple didn’t ask about costs or consider delaying until 2015 to limit their financial exposure.
“You’re not thinking about ‘How do I make this more affordable?’ You’re thinking about treatment that will prevent your death,” David Frick said.
Blizzard of bills
As David fights for his life, P.J. has grappled with the bills, his transition to disability leave and all the other logistics that pile onto families facing a medical crisis.
Just figuring out what they owe had been a challenge, she says, as bills have poured in from multiple sources, some of them duplicates.
That issue is fueling the nation’s medical-debt problem, according to Rich Cordray, director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“People rarely know the actual cost of a treatment or procedure beforehand, and after they receive treatment, it can be difficult to assess how much of the cost they will have to pay themselves. ... The result is that even consumers with health coverage often receive medical bills that can be surprising and hard to understand,” Cordray said in December.
And those bills are sometimes turned over to collectors while patients are still trying to sort out what they owe, Cordray said.
P.J. Frick withdrew money from her retirement savings. Family, friends and their church have helped with donations, meals and an online fundraising campaign. But as of late March, they had covered about $8,700 of their $19,000 debt, while their insurance had paid $83,500.
Before this, the couple had thought their college degrees, their healthy lifestyle and their workplace coverage meant they wouldn’t get into this kind of trouble.
“If we didn’t have a lot of help from friends and family and our church, we’d be bankrupt,” David Frick said. “It’s about ruined us.”
Want to help?
A family member has set up an online donation site to help with David Frick’s medical expenses: www.gofundme.com/m5vuko