I’m not complaining really. Well, yeah, I am, but I’m really grateful that I have health insurance and a job. And that I also have this other supplementary insurance, that was offered to us at work as an optional, self-paid benefit several years ago. It’s one of those insurance products that falls under the category of ‘catastrophic’ insurance, one of those things you buy because it’s relatively inexpensive — $300 a year — and, of course, you think you’ll never really use it. And you let yourself even hope, superstitiously, that if you do buy it, then it will somehow protect you like a magic amulet from ever really needing it.
So, what manner of ‘catastrophe’ does this insurance cover you for? You guessed it — cancer. Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as cancer insurance [mine is from Colonial Life & Accident Insurance]. At the time, a lot of us bought it, because one of our colleagues, a young woman in her early thirties, was diagnosed with cancer. She was the last person in the world you’d ever expect to be diagnosed with cancer (where have I heard that before?), so it shook us all up quite a lot. Hence, we signed up. In droves. Basically, the way it worked was that if you are a responsible healthcare consumer, and you get any sort of cancer screening test — a Pap smear, a chest X-ray, a mammogram, a colonoscopy, whatever — they’d reimburse you $100 for each one, for up to two every year. Which means that, in fact, when you subtracted the reimbursements from the premium, it would only end up costing one or two hundred bucks a year. Such a deal!
I had it for a few uneventful years. Every now and then, when the budget was a little tight, I’d think about cancelling it, but somehow I never got around to it. And I did get a Pap smear and a mammogram every year or two, so it’s not like it would have really saved me much money if I’d let it lapse. Good thing I procrastinate now and then. ‘Cause, heck, along came this pesky cancer diagnosis, and then I found out what cancer insurance really means.
What it means is that they provide you with some extra money while you’re going through the whole rigamarole of cancer diagnosis and treatment. It doesn’t pay your medical bills. That’s not what it’s for really, although if for some reason you had cancer insurance but not regular medical insurance, the money would certainly help pay the bills. But whether you have health insurance or not, the cancer insurance pays you a certain amount for each diagnostic test or surgery or radiation treatment or chemo infusion or whatever other joyous and delightful misery they put you through, because they figure — quite rightly — that you could use a few extra bucks. They’ll even help pay transportation costs if you have to go far from home for treatment. And reimburse you for prostheses. The only hitch is that you have to fill out the claims forms.
Somehow, I did manage to get my initial claim in. But it wasn’t easy. And it took me a while. It was one thing to file a claim in my halcyon, pre-cancer days for an annual Pap smear. They call those “Wellness Claims,” and you don’t even have to fill out a form to file one. All I had to do for those was call their claims office. It was another thing entirely to file a claim for my cancer insurance when I did, in fact, have cancer. In the first place, I was totally freaked out. Somehow, filing a cancer insurance claim because I had cancer made the whole thing even more real, if that makes any sense. It made it all seem uber-real somehow, to be filling out all these forms describing my odyssey. I couldn’t do it without reliving every minute of the entire ordeal. Plus, I felt like shite from surgery and treatment anyway. And my brain didn’t work well. And I was tired all the time. And whenever I sat down and looked at one of the forms, and tried to gather the necessary documentation to go with them, I would cry.
I did call them though. And I have to say that the claims people at the cancer insurance company are some of the nicest people I’ve dealt with throughout this entire sleighride. They’re used to people crying on the phone. They don’t mind if it takes you months or even years to get your claims in. They have a very helpful website. They let you fax and email stuff. Mostly, if you can cough up the right phone numbers, they’ll even make all those arduous calls for you, so you don’t have to hang on the phone — yet again — with your doctors’ offices or with the hospital billing department. But it’s still not easy. I’ve had a pharmacy statement, for all the tamoxifen I swallowed, sitting on my desk for a year and a half now. Took me about six months just to get up the wherewithal to request the statement. I just managed to fax it off to the cancer insurance people today. After I made a few more phone calls. I’ve had another pile of bills from having physical therapy for axillary web syndrome, also sitting on my desk for ages. Gathering all the statements for that was a major feat that took me months to accomplish, after which, I couldn’t even cope with trying to figure out how to file a claim for it. I finally did, this morning.
And it wasn’t too horrible. I didn’t cry this time. I did have to drink a few cups of coffee. But I didn’t get bogged down, reliving the entire unholy mess, this time. Mostly because I’m a little broke from not being able to work full-time anymore, so I was more motivated, shall we say, to get my act together. Only took me three years. Progress! And maybe a little infusion of cash into my shrinking bank account.
Of course, you have to not have cancer when you first enroll. But it might be something that the rest of your family and your friends could sign up for. And really, it’s just nice knowing that someone thinks they should pay you for going through all this.
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