By: Karen Cralli, Teaching Assistant (Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies)
For my 26th birthday, Campus Care gave me a choice: death or medical debt.
I suffer from a rare, life-threatening blood disorder called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). Left untreated, TTP claims a 95% mortality rate. With treatment, the survival rate is roughly 80%, though a significant number of patients experience multiple relapses. The only known treatment for TTP is plasmapheresis (plasma exchange): a patient’s plasma is removed and replaced with a donor’s plasma. Each plasma exchange at UIC’s Blood Donor and Hemotherapy Center costs $7,000: $5,000 for plasma, and $2,000 for labor and equipment. There is no telling how many plasma exchanges a patient may need before his/her platelet count stabilizes. Patients like myself, who have experienced two or more relapses, are encouraged to take an FDA-approved immunosuppressant drug called Rituxan, which has been shown to reduce relapse rates from 40-60% to 10%. For someone like me who has relapsed twice in less than 8 months, Rituxan is a miracle drug. Four doses of Rituxan (the recommended course of treatment for TTP) plus the cost of labor and equipment total $60,000 at UIC’s Oncology Clinic.
My third TTP episode began in late September, three weeks before my 26th birthday. Until age 26, I had been on my parents’ insurance plans, which always covered treatment for my disorder. Coverage through my parents’ insurance was set to lapse at the end of my birth month, meaning Campus Care would become my only insurance provider mid-way through my relapse. Though each TTP relapse is considered a life-threatening medical emergency, Campus Care does not cover the use of any blood products or biological sera on an outpatient basis, nor does it cover monoclonal antibodies like Rituxan. I receive the majority of my medical care on an outpatient basis; I am only treated as an inpatient until I am no longer at risk of bleeding to death from a small cut. Campus Care does not cover the majority of medically necessary, life-sustaining treatment for my blood disorder.
When Campus Care put me in a position to choose between death and debt, I chose debt. No one should ever be forced to make that choice—especially not a TA or GA who earns less than $20,000 a year, and pays more than $1,000 a year for Campus Care.
To date, I have received over $80,000 worth of blood products, medication, and medical services not covered by Campus Care. Graduate employees deserve the same choices as other UIC employees—we should have the option to enroll in an insurance plan that won’t force us to choose between debt and death.