Daly: My expensive brush with skin cancer

Columnist Michael J. Daly says his relatively straightforward Columnist Michael J. Daly says his relatively straightforward surgery for skin cancer cost $48,499. He laments that the whole issue of health insurance is caught up in the Washington power struggle. Photo Credit: Istock

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Getting sick is an expensive proposition in America. Staggeringly expensive.

I had surgery in April for what in my mind, given the possibility of ailments that can befall man, was relatively minor.

Now I'm not saying there's anything trivial about any form of cancer. Maybe it's that having dealt with skin cancer over the last couple of decades, I've grown inured to the whole process of scraping, freezing, the taking of biopsies, the results and the follow-up work.

My skin, the product of a father from Caherciveen, County Kerry, Ireland, and a mother from Glasgow, Scotland; of a youth spent on various tennis courts and an objection to wearing hats, is a veritable petri dish for various forms of cancer.

Fortunately, they have been largely of the basal cell form, with the occasional squamous cell, a more serious variety.

After the longest I ever went without a checkup -- it was three years between 2006 and 2009 -- my skin guy, Dr. Douglas Bilinski, found a mole that clearly concerned him. Out it went for a biopsy. Ten days later I visited him again. "That was as close to a melanoma as you can get. Within a year it would have been one." In as stern a tone as I've ever heard from him, he said, "You can't go three years without a checkup." Trust me, it will never happen again. I've written about this in recent weeks, so I won't rehash the whole thing: a trip to Bilinski turned up a squamous cell lesion on my right lower leg. Removing it was something beyond his purview, so he referred me to Dr. Harvey Bluestein, the head of plastic surgery at Bridgeport Hospital.

On April 5, a friend drove me to the hospital, I slipped into a gown and sat on the taxiway in surgical prep area, where a nurse shaved my leg, Dr. Bluestein came in for a chat, and the anesthesiologist came in to say I'd be going under general anesthesia. They wheeled me in under the bright lights. I remember asking how many people were in there ...

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... And the next thing I heard was the voice of my wife, Sharon, talking with a nurse as I was reconnecting with the world in the recovery room.

What Dr. Bluestein did -- how do these guys do this? -- was remove the cancer from my leg. Because of where it was, very close to the shin, he had to repair the spot with a graft of skin taken from my hip. And, oh, by the way, there were malignant lesions to be excised on my right front thigh and my left forearm. So, four worksites in all.

Here's what a day at the hospital cost: $48,499. Here's what I'm going to pay: $1,868.

Throw in some of the pre-April 5 items -- blood work, X-rays, preliminary consultations -- and we're easily up over $50,000 in total, and my out-of-pocket hitting close to $2,000.

This coming week, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the future of President Barack Obama's plan for health care. You know what? I've read so much pro and con about it that my head is spinning.

But I do know this. What we have now can't be working. I'm lucky. I have insurance.

By the way, just a couple of breakdowns on the nut cited above: Dr. Bluestein billed $26,750 for his work on April 5. You want my vote? Worth every penny. My Cigna negotiators knocked $24,952 off that total, then paid $1,610, leaving me to pay $189.

Bridgeport Hospital billed $17,359. Cigna negotiated a $10,015 reduction, paid $6,609, leaving me a bill of $734.

As I said, I consider myself relatively fortunate. I entered the hospital at 1 p.m. and left around 6 p.m. What does it cost to treat a long-term seriously ill person? Hospitals don't turn people away. Who's picking up the freight for all the uninsured people in all the emergency rooms and surgical bays in all the hospitals around the country? The answer is complex. It's too bad Obama's plan -- anybody's plan -- to do something about this is caught up in a Washington that cares less about the cost of health care than it does in stockpiling power.

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Michael J. Daly is a columnist for the Connecticut Post in Bridgeport. His email address is mdaly@ctpost.com; 203-330-6394.

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