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Digging Deeper: Affordable Healthcare?

If you struggle with healthcare costs, you’re not alone. The average person spends about $10,000 a year for healthcare.

From the look of 4-year-old Hayden Wheatley, it’s hard to believe where the Hamilton, Illinois, girl was just two years ago. She was 19-months-old, in a hospital room in Iowa City where she was dealing with a rare form of pediatric brain cancer.

“Who budgets for their child to have cancer?” said Mom Nichole Wheatley. “That’s not in your plans.”

Hayden suffered a massive amount of complications following her diagnosis and Wheatley says she would’ve never imagined the amount of bills now facing her family.

“I know that without insurance our medical bills were upwards of $8 million,” said Wheatley.

Wheatley is a stay-at-home mom but her husband works for the state, which provides a decent amount of healthcare coverage. However, even with insurance, Wheatley says the out-of-pocket costs is quickly climbing to more than $20,000.

“I usually argue with insurance companies about once a week about medical costs,” said Wheatley.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average premium has risen 19 percent over the past five years, to $7,000 for single coverage in 2017, and to nearly $19,000 for family coverage.

Patrick Gerveler is the chief financial officer at Blessing Hospital.

“When I was chief financial officer 14 years ago, Medicare was paying about 45 to 50 cents and Medicare was paying about 24 cents,” said Gerveler. “They’re paying less and less because we’re not seeing their rates increase with inflation. We pass that cost on to all of us that have private insurance.”

A study by Forbes also points to advancements in medical technology for the rising cost of healthcare. Doctors are running more tests and those are adding up.

Gerveler says higher medical costs have resulted in fewer people going to the doctor. He says that’s why Blessing now offers lower-priced options in places like grocery stores.

The cost of medication is also skyrocketing, up almost 8 percent over the past years and expected to rise another 5 percent next year, according to Healthcare Media.

“I see people that everyday make a decision between can I afford my medication at the pharmacy or can I go buy groceries,” said Gail Murry with the Quincy Senior Center.

Murry says retirees pay upwards of $1,000 a month for healthcare.

“It’s also hard when you say I’m going to retire at 65,” said Murry. “How do I anticipate what the rate of inflation is going to be for those thing?. Do I anticipate that I live to 80? Do I anticipate that I live to 85? People out-live their resources. They out live their money.”

Keokuk resident Norma Steffensmeier, 73, has been retired for 11 years and thinks the price she pays for her prescriptions under Medicare is unfair.

“I’m paying $455 the first deductible, then after that it’s $25 a month for my inhaler and $25 a month for my rescue inhaler, if I need it,” said Steffensmeier.

With no income, Steffensmeier says she has to budget in order to afford her medication.

The Wheatley family is doing the same, adjusting to their new life post cancer.

“I wouldn’t say we live paycheck-to-paycheck, but it’s not a comfortable situation,” said Wheatley.

If you’re one of the people who choose to skip the doctor rather than pay the bills, doctors warn that your symptoms could lead to a more serious diagnosis and end up costing you more.

Gerveler says there are options available to make medical bills more manageable.

“Last year, 2,444 people got $6 million in assistance from the Blessing Organization by sitting down and having that conversation and seeing, can we help with that if they don’t have the financial ability to pay,” said Gerveler.

If you’re going to have a procedure, Gerveler says to call your insurance company and make sure the procedure is pre-authorized. That could save you thousands of dollars down the road.

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NCSL report on Health Insurance: Premiums And Increases
Americans’ Views on Healthcare Costs, Coverage and Policy (PDF)

Kaylee Pfeiferling

Multimedia Journalist

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