More on Dying for Care

5

THE COST
‘The tumor was growing - and it was growing fast’

Young first noticed discomfort in November 2009 inside his right ear. His hearing became a problem.

“You know the sound that's made if you cover your ear and you can hear your voice amplified inside your head? That's what it sounded like,” he said. “When you're a singer, having things amplified in your head is kind of a problem. I thought I had an ear infection.”

He waited until late February 2010 to see a doctor. He got a prescription for antibiotics. But when his hearing didn't improve, his doctor gave him a referral to see an ear, nose and throat specialist, who handed him a different prescription for antibiotics and a steroid.

That still didn't improve his situation.

Then Young started having trouble seeing out of his right eye. His doctor recommended a CT scan. Young started to feel the first pinch to his wallet.

Because the cost was not exorbitant, Young went forward with the scan, which his doctor said revealed abnormalities. His doctor told Young he now needed to get an MRI.

The cost: $750.

“It was the cheapest I could find,” Young said. “At that point, I was really, really worried.”

Unable to pay for the test, he spent several weeks calling different offices hoping to find a cheaper rate.

While searching, he began to feel pressure along his nasal cavity, and his pain increased every day. He finally found a medical office in New Jersey a month later offering the test for $450.

Young's doctor, David Slavit, told him he would need an invasive biopsy because of the sensitive area of the tumor. Slavit agreed to discount the procedure to $35, Young said.

Slavit, who has an office in Manhattan's Upper East Side, did not return a call for comment.

After pulling tissue from the lining of Young's nose, his doctor confirmed what the singer feared: He had cancer.

He needed to find an oncologist to begin treatment right away.

“The tumor was growing - and it was growing fast,” Young said.

But because Young didn't have health insurance, he couldn't find a doctor willing to treat him. Slavit contacted an oncologist at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan to ask if he would meet with his patient as a favor, Young said.

The oncologist agreed, but only under the condition that Young pay a fee for the visit and that there would be no guarantee that he could get treatment there if Young couldn't figure out how to pay for care.

His cancer had progressed to stage 4, meaning cancer cells spread beyond its original location, the oncologist told him. Young's best chances of survival would be an aggressive treatment plan: three rounds of chemotherapy, seven weeks of radiation that included a second trio of chemotherapy followed by a third, final round of chemotherapy.

His chemotherapy treatments would require a five-day hospital stay for each round. His radiation would be five days a week.

“I really felt slammed in the face,” Young said.

Young continued to feel overwhelmed when he sat down with staff at Beth Israel's financial department. The cost of his treatment was about $112,000.

“I didn't know what I was going to do,” Young said.

He applied for Medicaid, but he said he was denied after he gave the hospital his previous year's tax return to use to base his income level. He was declared ineligible for assistance because his $27,000 annual income was about 250 percent above the federal poverty level.

As he tried to arrange a realistic payment plan, Young lost vision in his right eye. His tumor pushed against his brain. He lost feeling on the right side of his face.

So he arranged a deal with the hospital. Beth Israel would consider Young a charity case and would cover 80 percent of his costs. But he was on the hook for the remaining 20 percent.

And he needed to pay $14,000 in advance or he couldn't receive any treatment.

“If I couldn't come up with $14,000, they couldn't touch me,” Young said. “I could understand from a business aspect, but from a human aspect, that's a very scary thing.”

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