Money as a cancer survivor

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Maria Vittoria Gronchi has struggled with thyroid issues since she was about 10 years old, which required her to visit endocrine specialists more often than most. In one of those routine visits a year ago, her doctor found something out of the ordinary—a malignant tumor on her thyroid.

Top-tier coverage is a non-negotiable

Even though Gronchi’s condition made her prioritize her healthcare coverage—even before the cancer diagnosis—she opted for the highest coverage she could attain through her employer (a low deductible HMO plan), which costs her $100 per paycheck, adding up to $2,400 a year . “Despite being young and being, on paper (other than my pre-existing condition), healthy, I couldn’t just choose a basic insurance because even just with regular monitoring, or a [specialist] visit every quarter, I needed an insurance that could cover that,” she told Money Scoop.

To Gronchi, who was born and raised in Italy, a country with a universal healthcare system, the cost seemed steep. But, in reality, it’s low compared to the average $6,106 workers contribute towards employer-sponsored health insurance premiums, according to the KFF’s 2022 Employer Health Benefits Survey—and that stat includes insurance plans with far less coverage.

Any alternatives?

After running the numbers when Gronchi got her diagnosis, she concluded she’d be better off getting surgery to remove her tumor back home in Italy—even with her comprehensive insurance plan. “​​The surgery itself was a nightmare with any insurance, because you need to have a lot of visits before, and a lot of visits that are connected, for like, your anesthesia,” he said. “The care coordination with the insurance and different providers was just a nightmare. So I looked into it, tried it out, [but] despite my top-notch insurance with full coverage, I decided that was impossible.”

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Struggles with her insurance coverage went far beyond the actual cost of the many specialist visits, pre-op appointments, post-op appointments, diagnostic imaging, blood tests, and the actual surgery. Dealing with the logistics of coordinating between, at times, hostile insurers and healthcare providers felt like too heavy a burden to carry while dealing with her illness. “My mind was already managing the disease and managing my anxiety. I could not manage the idea of ​​just managing the insurance, he said. “Having to monitor how much you have in your flex account and how much you have to pay with your healthcare provider…That’s a massive coordination effort for something that is already unpleasant.”

Her full treatment in Italy, including pre-op care, her surgery, and post-op care, came out to just under $600—what Gronchi would’ve had to pay in the US to cover just her deductible.

Staying cancer-free

Although Gronchi’s surgery was successful, she needs to maintain a consistent regimen of follow-up care to make sure she’s progressing as planned. She has to visit a specialist every three months, which, when counting her bloodwork and checkup, brings her close to her $600 deductible. Her first monitoring check-up in the US was in November, and she had to pay fully out of pocket. The following checkout—her first in 2023—was also paid in cash.

Gronchi is due for another checkup soon, but she coordinated a family visit to line up with him so she can get one in Italy instead—which will cost her about $50. And she’ll get to enjoy the Tuscan countryside while she’s at it. 🤌

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