Without insurance, patients dig deep to pay for treatment

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 March, 2006, 12:00am

Ever since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2004, Cecilia Kao has gone through the gamut of treatment - from surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy to Chinese medicine.

Her medical bills have so far come to $330,000 and are still accumulating.

The operation to remove the tumour cost $150,000. The drug therapy clocked $120,000. She forked out a further $60,000 for radiotherapy and she is still paying $1,500 every month for hormonal therapy drugs.

In addition, she spends another $4,000 every month on Chinese medicine, which she takes to offset the side-effects of orthodox treatments, such as a loss of taste.

On top of all this are the consultation fees for check-ups with cancer specialists every six months.

'I am lucky to have my husband's financial support for the treatments as I have no medical insurance,' she said.

Businessman Fred King (not his real name), who has been treated for colon cancer for the past five years, has paid about $300,000 for surgery alone. The surgery was for a tumour near his spine, a result of spreading cancer left over from previous colon surgery at a public hospital. Mr King is paying for his own treatment.

In the United States, the high cost of therapy drugs is covered by medical insurance, but Hong Kong medical insurance normally covers only hospitalisation costs or a lump sum for a critical illness.

This would not be of much help to patients who require long-term targeted therapy treatment, said Dr William Foo, the director of Hong Kong Baptist Hospital's Radiotherapy and Oncology Centre.