December 09, 2008

Freakonomics of the Cancer Kind

Marble On My Number
I had cancer and no health insurance. I wasn’t a 27-year old slacker who didn’t want insurance. And although it was a stretch, I was even able to pay for it. Instead, Denise, my HR director, forgot to submit my COBRA papers when I left my job. What are the chances you get diagnosed with cancer the month your COBRA papers fall through the cracks? However small they were, the marble landed on my number.

I fought tooth and nail, dubiously worked the system, and lied out my ass to reinstate my COBRA. I was lucky; the company I worked for was still in business. But what happens if you lose your job because your company shuts down? You are shit out of luck because the very definition of COBRA means you are paying to join the group plan run by your former employer.

The unemployment rate just hit its highest since 1974. For many, this means the loss of employer-based health insurance, either because folks cannot afford to get COBRA or because it is not available. Without insurance, many people will be diagnosed with cancer at later stages that bear lower survival rates.

Jelly In the Middle
Sunday’s New York Times tells the story of workers at the Archway Cookie plant in Ashland Ohio – you remember the chewy oatmeal cookies with apricot jelly in the middle? The plant closed down and many workers have no access to healthcare.

In the article, M. Harvey Brenner, a professor of public health at the University of North Texas and Johns Hopkins University, reports on a 30 year study that shows the link between the economy, human health, and life expectancy. The bottom line: When the national income drops and unemployment peaks you often see increases in mortality from cancer and other diseases.

Interconnectedness of All Things On the Planet
Lots of people get cancer and suddenly see that everything happens for a reason, they feel an interconnectedness to everything on the planet. I’ve got cancer, and I believe things happen for a reason, but that reason is usually related more to health care policy, economics, and politics than it is to God. Discovering the cure for cancer is not enough. We have to figure out how the woman who used to bake apricot cookies can afford to get diagnosed and pay for her drugs. As young adult cancer patients, we cannot just turn off the news and pretend the economy doesn’t affect our lives.

Has the shift in the economy affected you? Do you know anyone who has recently become unemployed? Do you listen to reports about the economy on the news or do you switch the channel?

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