Niagara Gazette

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February 16, 2014

HIGH COST OF HEALTH CARE: Tough choices, fundraisers filling the gaps for some

Tough choices, fundraisers filling the gaps for some

Niagara Gazette — It wasn’t like she didn’t have enough to worry about.

When Ronda Koban-Sartore was fighting for her life, battling the cancer that she died from last April, she was deeply worried how her husband, Dave, and their two children, Andrea, 12, and Zac, 17, would survive without her. 

As she struggled to stay alive, hoping to attend her son’s graduation from high school, the costs of her illness grew, eroding the family’s finances so severely that Ronda — who hated owing money — began paying off medical expenses with credit cards.

She would often delay much-needed weekly treatments to remove the fluids that swelled her midsection, because her co-pay for each treatment was $150. 

As the bills began to pile up, long-time family friend, Ann Marie Hepfer, stepped in to deal with the pile of bills that resulted from Ronda’s illness, which between co-pays, medical supplies, and lagging household expenses ranged around $100,000.  

The pile of unpaid bills did not daunt Hepfer, who used to work as a bookkeeper at her family’s store, DiMino’s Tops Market in Lewiston. Still, she was appalled by the charges Ronda’s medical bills, especially the hospital expenses.

“Who allows these people to get away with charging these prices on medicine? There’s no way that one pill is $25,” she said. “No way.”

Friends were trying to talk Ronda into letting them hold a fundraiser for the family. She’d been working hard since she was a teen and she couldn’t bear the idea of needing help. She resisted as long as she could, Hepfer recalled. But eventually, Ronda had to leave her job as a judge’s clerk and the family lost its second income. Ronda never made it past the six month wait for Social Security. The family was forced to file for bankruptcy to deal with the growing debt.

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