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Cancer Patients Often Stranded in Health Insurance Nightmares
Date:2/5/2009

New report details 20 troubling tales, offers advice on how to cope

THURSDAY, Feb. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Last summer, Keith Blessington had just been told that he was eligible for private health insurance to replace his government-funded COBRA coverage when it ran out.

Then, the 55-year-old New Hampshire resident was diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer, and everything changed.

Although the COBRA coverage paid for most of the cost of his initial surgery, by the time he got out of the hospital having had half his stomach and eight cancerous lymph nodes removed, Blessington found himself ineligible for virtually any private health insurance, because his cancer was now a daunting preexisting condition.

Blessington is still one of the lucky ones, because he managed to secure insurance through New Hampshire's high-risk insurance pool. However, the coverage is costly, $1,120 a month to be exact.

Just to survive while he was unable to work, Blessington borrowed $40,000 on his credit card and cashed out his 401K retirement plan.

"I have enough money for another month or so to live on. My savings are gone," Blessington, a freelance accountant, said recently.

This is just one of 20 heartbreaking stories in a new Kaiser Family Foundation/American Cancer Society report called Spending to Survive: Cancer Patients Confront Holes in the Health Insurance System. All the individuals profiled had health insurance at the time they were diagnosed with cancer.

"They're stories about how insurance just doesn't do the job," said Christy Schmidt, a co-author of the report and senior policy director for the American Cancer Society. "We need to make sure we're not just giving someone an insurance card. The insurance needs to be adequate."

The report comes soon after another study found that more than 1 million of 12 million cancer survivors living in the United States have had to
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