On May 15, 2018, Palm Beach County resident Lauren Greaves received a diagnosis that shook her to her core: Stage 3 breast cancer.
It had spread to my lymph nodes,” Greaves said. “I had all my lymph nodes removed. I had both my breasts removed.”
Before she could start with chemotherapy and radiation, she had another big decision to make. Her doctor told her the treatment was going to wipe out her ovaries.
“You need to freeze your eggs, you have four weeks, go,” Greaves recalled.
The procedure is not cheap, costing $30,000, and it was not covered by her insurance company.
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“I don’t know who has $30,000 laying around, and it’s either you do this in these four weeks and you figure out this money or you don’t have children and you have four weeks to make this decision and find this money,” Greaves said.
When it came to fighting cancer, she thought she knew how much she would have to end up paying for her treatments.
“All of my visits had been covered. I’ve gone and got biopsies, mammograms, sonograms, everything was covered and my deductibles were paid, and I paid my out of pocket and we were fine,” Greaves said.
But then she started getting bills.
"They (the insurance) wouldn’t pay for any of it,” Greaves said. “Not a dollar of it. I’m halfway through chemo, I’m half dead, literally, and I have $100,000 in medical bills that aren’t paid for. Period.”
Greaves was stuck in the maze of medical billing. She said her insurance did not accept the way the hospital billed and would only pay if it was billed as an outpatient service.
“There’s no way that someone could do that to someone,” Greaves said. “It has to be just an error. It’s a billing error. I’ll talk to people and they’ll figure it out. And everybody I talked to just passed me off to another person, and another person, and another person. And I was spending hours in circles on speakerphone, just crying and trying to talk to somebody that would just listen to me.”
There was never a resolution and the insurance kept refusing to pay.
“It was pretty devastating,” Greaves said. “It was worse at one point than the actual cancer.”
Greaves was drowning in medical debt.
“And there’s nothing you can do,” Greaves said. “I couldn’t stop chemo. I would have died.”
That’s when she turned to the website GoFundMe.
“I’d go on there and read some of the messages people sent me and the crazy amounts people would give that didn’t even know me and never met me,” Greaves said while wiping away tears.
She has received more than $76,000 in donations on her GoFundMe page so far, but she says her medical bills are around $200,000.
“The diagnosis I could fix. I could work on. I could be proactive. I could go see doctors,” Greaves said. “I could get things done. The billing and insurance, I can’t get six jobs. I can’t make $100,000 in six months.”
A year after she started treatment, she’s still getting medical bills.
“$7,000, $6,000, $3,672,” Greaves said, reading the bills out loud. “Bills that you don’t expect to see when you have insurance.”
At this point she said she doesn’t even know what the bills are for anymore.
“My sister and I went through a lot of them one day and went through all of the bills and codes and trying to understand. They’re trying to make it very confusing for you, so you just end up giving up and paying them,” Greaves said.
She said she got some charges reversed, like an injection she was billed for twice by accident. One injection cost $20,000.
“To have to deal with that while you’re also dealing with your own mortality, your family’s stress, and your parent’s pain, trying to deal with that and trying to figure out your insurance to me is just extremely traumatizing,” Greaves said. “It was a very dark time. The insurance was the darkest of all of it.”
Greaves is currently looking into taking legal actions to fight some of her medical bills.