Vivian Heckman

By proton-admin | November 16, 2017

“My family will recover from the financial hardships of paying out of pocket for the therapy, however there are many more patients without the financial means to fund their own care, and who are dependent on their insurer. That is way too much power outside the hands of patients and their medical professionals. No health insurance company should be able to summarily decide a patient’s fate.”


At 60 years old, I was living a very active life. My husband and I had recently become “empty nesters” and I filled my time by running my own business and visiting the gym daily.

However, that all changed when I went to my primary care doctor with some back pain last winter. An MRI revealed something I never expected – stage three lung cancer that had already spread to my sternum. My doctor scheduled me for surgery that same week.

After the surgery, my husband and I decided to meet with multiple oncologists in the area to explore treatment options. When a doctor at Moffitt Cancer Center explained that I only had a 50/50 chance at survival with chemotherapy, I couldn’t accept those odds. I knew there had to be a better option available – I plan on being around for a while! My search for the best possible outcome led me to the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center in Houston, Texas.

After meeting with MD Anderson Cancer Center, it was clear that proton therapy was my best chance not only for my survival, but also to preserve the best quality of life after cancer. My insurer, however, deemed the treatment “experimental” and refused to cover it. I was shocked.

I have learned that many Americans with cancer are often denied coverage because insurers deem treatment “experimental.” In my case, United Healthcare, an insurer infamous in the cancer community for denying patients need, refused to cover my treatment.

The employer that my husband has been loyal to for decades, took no action to help us despite multiple conference calls with the treatment center and the employer’s global representative for insurance. The entire appeals process became one frustrating ordeal after the next. We appealed United’s decision three times and the first two were handled by a United physician and the third was handled by an oncologist with no experience in proton therapy, was also rejected.

In the end, I had no choice but to go forward with my proton therapy treatment without the financial support of my insurer. Between the expenses of traveling to Houston, renting an apartment for the 5 weeks of treatment, and the care itself, my husband and I spent over $100,000 to save my life.

My family will recover from the financial hardships of paying out of pocket for the therapy, however there are many more patients without the financial means to fund their own care, and who are dependent on their insurer. That is way too much power outside the hands of patients and their medical professionals. No health insurance company should be able to summarily decide a patient’s fate.