My Turn: Wish me luck

Cancer survivor forgoes insurance

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2007

This week marks a special anniversary for me: It has been one year since I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had to have my prostate gland removed.

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Dealing with cancer has been every bit as scary as I had heard it was, but so far at least I've been lucky. There is every indication that I am cancer free. Strictly speaking, of course, my cancer is "in remission," and I won't be classified as "cancer free" for five years, but the prognosis could be much worse.

I was lucky in another way. Most of my cancer treatment expenses were covered by my health insurance. When I started my own small business in 2001, I suddenly discovered that as a healthy, nonsmoking 51-year-old male, I simply could not afford traditional health care insurance. I shopped around and found the next best thing: A catastrophic care policy that paid a lump sum of $75,000 in the event I was diagnosed with cancer or certain other serious illnesses.

I received my $75,000 check less than a month after I found out I had cancer in both lobes of my prostate gland. Knowing that my medical problems would not be amplified by financial problems was comforting and, I'm sure, aided in my recovery.

But catastrophic care policies have a little kicker: Once the patient receives the payment, the policy is canceled and cannot be renewed. And believe me, it's not easy to find medical insurance once you have been diagnosed with cancer.

Actually, that's not completely true. Hours of Internet searches for medical insurance got lots of hits from companies - none of which I had ever heard of before - willing to insure me at very reasonable rates. The only catch is that none of these companies would send me anything in writing, so I could not investigate whether they were legitimate companies or Internet scams.

I've been able to find only one legitimate insurance company willing to insure me, the Alaska Comprehensive Health Care Insurance Association. ACHIA was established for people who are not covered by other insurance companies and have been previously diagnosed with serious diseases such as cancer. The only catch is that for someone my age the monthly premium exceeds $1,000, there is a $10,000 deductible and ACHIA chooses the physician. What a deal. After just a few months of making the monthly payments, I doubt I'd be able to pay the deductible.

So, wish me luck. I have no health insurance. I do everything I can to take care of myself. I work out at the gym four times a week. I eat a healthy diet. I don't smoke. I drink almost no alcohol. I am not overweight. But if the cancer returns, I will be financially ruined. Or worse.

• Bill Brown is the owner of Taku Reel Repair in Juneau.

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