The Process, Part 11: My Life as a MasterCard Commercial

The bottom line: The out-of-pocket cost to the insurance company will be more than $65,000, and that doesn't include any of the follow-up visits to other members of Team Stan. That's the financial impact on the insurance company. What about me? Let's start with The Process-caused savings.
03/27/2014 11:13 am ET Updated May 27, 2014

If The Process works I'm going to sound like a MasterCard commercial if anyone asks what it cost.

Being cancer free? Priceless!

And that absolutely will be true. But there's also the undeniable economic reality that The Process is very expensive.

According to the "explanation of benefits" forms I receive in the mail from my health insurer, the hospital is billing $1,921.58 for each radiation treatment. That means my insurance will be billed more than $71,000 for the 37 sessions.

There were will also be additional charges for my Monday sessions with the radiation oncology resident, my Wednesday sessions with the radiation oncologist, my follow-up sessions with the medical and dermatological oncologists, the scan three months after radiation ends that hopefully will confirm there's no sign of Merkel cell anywhere, the follow-up session with the radiation oncologist to review the scans and for my meetings with the speech pathologist and dietitian.

Add in the surgery that took place before the radiation began and by the time it's over the insurance company will be billed close to $125,000.

That's not what the insurance company will actually pay, of course. Slightly more than $620 of the $1,921 per radiation treatment charge from the hospital is "non-allowed" because it exceeds what the insurance company thinks appropriate (don't you wish you could do that with your rent or mortgage?), so about one-third of the charges will simply disappear. The insurance company won't pay it and won't be my responsibility because I reached my deductible limit months earlier. As a result, the hospital will receive much less than the full amount.

The same is true of the other charges for both the surgery and care related to the radiation: They will just disappear because the insurance company says it won't pay.

The bottom line: The out-of-pocket cost to the insurance company will be more than $65,000, and that doesn't include any of the follow-up visits to other members of Team Stan.

That's the financial impact on the insurance company. What about me?

Let's start with The Process-caused savings.

I stopped drinking alcohol when The Process began so I have saved the cost of the few glasses of wine I used to have each week.

Coffee tastes so bad that I have even stopped drinking the decaf I switched to when I started the radiation treatments because caffeine would make my mouth dry. That means the pound that used to last a week generally is now lasting two or more because The BTW is the only one drinking coffee.

The BTW and I have stopped going to out to eat because there is no reason to pay for an expensive meal when I can't tell the difference between an excellent Italian restaurant and Chef Boyardee. Since we used to at out at least twice week the savings are significant.

The BTW and I are buying far fewer things at the supermarket because most of what I used to eat -- especially fresh fruit and vegetables -- no longer have any appeal. We also aren't grilling much of anything (we usually grill through the year rather than just in the summer) so there are no trips to the butcher.

Overall, I estimate that our food buy is about half of what it was before The Process began.

The radiation has permanently stopped my beard from growing from about midway on my face all the way down my neck. Because of that I am using about half the number of razor blades and less shaving cream than before. If I live 30 more years, project just an increase for inflation in the cost of the blades and assume that any technical advances over the next three decades have an equal chance of making shaving more and less expensive, this one change will save me more than $9,000 over the rest of my life.

And the BTW and I have cancelled a planned trip to visit friends in New England over the holidays so we've saved all of the costs involved with that travel.

Here's the flip side.

So far I have purchased two prescriptions to deal with pain from the very sore throat I'm told is coming. My cost was about $50.

I have also bought the salve I need to limit the radiation damage to the skin around my neck. I'm projecting that will end up costing a total of $36.

I need a special mild soap to use on my neck. It is available over-the-counter and will cost about $30 by the time The Process ends.

I have had two to three protein shakes a day at approximately $2.50 each. Yes, I could have bought less expensive protein powder, made my own shakes and saved a few cents. But the amount of protein in equal-sized servings from the powder is far less than in the pre-made drinks (9 grams vs. 25 grams) and, therefore, not as cost-effective a way of getting the nutrition I need.

Three shakes a day at $2.50 each equals $7.50 a day. Eight weeks of The Process (37 radiation treatments, three days off for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's and weekends) is 56 days. Adding four more weeks before my sense of taste returns to the point where I want to eat real food again will increase the total to 84 days. That means I'm going to spend about $700 on protein shakes alone.

I will drive 228 extra miles getting to and from the hospital for my daily radiation treatments. Even with the falling gasoline prices in the winter of 2013, that will require that I spend approximately $51. Add in the cost of insurance, maintenance and depreciation and the total cost for driving will be about $75.

Parking at the hospital cost $3 per day at the special rate for patients. I will be there 38 days -- the 37 days when I received treatment and the one day of simulation before that began - so the total cost will be $114.

I am buying donuts for the team at the hospital's radiation oncology unit once a week during The Process. No, it's not required. But I love doing it because it puts a smile on everyone's face on the morning. The approximate cost will be $72.

The four bottles of the special mouth rinse and six tubes of special toothpaste I will need to deal with my dry mouth will cost $78. And the humidifier I bought to deal with the mouth dryness while I sleep cost $34.

Finally, the total cost of the three massage sessions and acupuncture will be about $750.

But all of this is really beside the point. Being cancer free for decades to come? Priceless!

This is a continuing series of blog posts by Stan Collender about his experience fighting cancer. "The Process" Stan is describing began last August.