Cost of Cancer

TL:DR – Caner is expensive business. Get an insurance plan that has an unlimited payout and a critical illness payout.

*Disclaimer – I’m not asking for financial aid with this post instead hope to spur individuals to be more prudent with their finances*

I want to lose weight. I want to learn a new language. I want to travel more. New Year’s Resolutions – I am a bit late to the game but in my defence we are still in the month of January. If you are still looking for a resolution for the year, I have one for you – get yourself properly insured.

I’m sure that most of us, know that cancer is expensive business. We’ve all heard stories about individuals not having the financial means to pay for their cancer treatment.

But exactly how expensive is expensive?


Why is cancer so expensive?

Unless you have a relative/friend receiving treatment for cancer, I would say that you probably did not know that there are very many different drugs to treat cancer. Even two patients with the same primary cancer, say colorectal, may not necessarily receive the same drugs.

While we are nowhere close to eradicating cancer completely, we are definitely getting better at treating the disease and prolonging the lives of those stricken by the disease. As science progresses, more drugs targeting very specific mutations will be developed. But because the drugs are more targeted, the pool of people that the drugs will benefit decreases considerably. Pharmaceutical companies then increase the prices of the drugs in order to recover the costs invested during the years spent developing the drugs.  

With these various cancer drugs, pharmaceutical companies are not just selling a cure. Instead, they are selling hope. Hope for a chance to make amends, hope to live a little long, hope to be able to witness your children and grandchildren grow up.

The problem then with selling hope is that regardless of how high the price is, people are willing to pay. Pharma companies, obsessed with a bottom line, then gleefully increases the prices of the drugs.

(Perfectly inelastic demand, if I remember my JC economics correctly. If didn’t then let’s pray that my JC econs teacher doesn’t see this least I be at the receiving end of his wrath)

Avastin is a biological therapy drug that stops the growth of blood vessels.

To illustrate with an example, I’m running with a biological therapy drug called Avastin. Avastin was not available only until recent years. Each dose costs $2358.33, and we run two doses each month, once every other week. The dosage is based on body weight and height so depending on how tall and how fat you are, the cost can vary.

Okay, let’s backtrack a little. What exactly does Avastin do and why is it so expensive?. It’s basically a drug that stops the growth of new blood vessels, thus starving off the tumours. Avastin is not a chemotherapy drug so not only are its side effects supposedly less than those of conventional chemotherapy drugs. Because of the potential implications of stopping the growth of blood vessels – wounds unable to heal, complications during surgery etc – the FDA only approved the use of the drug for patients that had been diagnosed with end-stage cancer,

Back to my earlier point about a smaller demand pool, and pharmaceutical companies jacking up the prices in order to cover the cost of developing the drug, and to have enough capital to conduct research for more drugs.

It is so costly that it is no longer available to patients in the UK getting treatment under NHS. In Singapore, unfortunately, it is not under the list of subsidised drugs either so patients have to pay for it in full.


Insurance, insurance insurance

One of my biggest regrets is not getting adequate insurance coverage for myself. My current insurance plan was drawn by my parents over 20 years ago. At 23 and less than a year into my career, I didn’t think then that there was a need to get insurance. The whole concept of critical/chronic illness was pretty alien and I falsely assumed that it was something that I only had to deal with decades from now.

Yes, there is Medishield Life, which takes a bulk of the cost but even then there is a cap of $3,000 a month. As for Medisave, the cap stands at $1,200 a month. The reason why there is a cap to the amount that can be withdrawn is because these institutions are designed to help individuals cope with their medical bills during their old age, when they no longer have the means to support themselves.

With a dose of Avastin costing more than what some earn, each month I rake up $5,753.51 in bills, that’s excluding non-claimable outpatient charges such as CT-PET scans. Those scans cost $2,400 and we run them almost every other month. I’ll let you do the math.

How a CT-PET scan machine looks like. Other than the line that they have to insert before the scan for the contrast dye, the scan itself doesn’t hurt.

Besides health insurance, it is also super duper important not just to get a life insurance plan, but to get one that has a critical illness and disability coverage. After filling in lots and lots of forms (and making my doctor fill them in as well), I found out that my life insurance does not have a critical illness payout.

A critical illness payout is beneficial as it helps defray the cost of things like Grab rides. Yes, Grab rides because visits to the hospital can be draining and after each chemo session, you probably will not have the strength to take a bus home. It also helps to defray the costs of things like your daily expenditure, (as it can be difficult to find employment as a cancer patient) and non-claimable outpatient charges.

I know that NTUC Income has pretty affordable insurance plans though their coverage is not fantastic. Please do make it your new year’s resolution to be more prudent about finances and to make sure that you are properly insured. If finances allow for it, do get an insurance plan that has an unlimited medical coverage, and a life insurance with a critical illness payout, as it gives you a peace of mind during times of illness.

If anyone is interested, I most definitely can give you a complete breakdown of my medical expenditure. If anyone needs a recommendation on a financial consultant, I can recommend you one as well.