Serious Illness? Learn How to Navigate the Health Care System

Hit Broadway producer David Landay watched cancer kill both his parents and HIV/AIDS snatch several close friends, and eventually his partner.

It seemed that dealing with death had become a frequent and unwanted aspect of his life.

"It was so common that my friend Sally came home and found this note on her refrigerator: 'Rich called. John is dead.' And it had just become that common," he said. "My partner David died, and after that, I decided I had to help full-time."

After navigating the difficult pathway of serious illness and the health care system, Landay wanted to help others do the same. So he launched a Web site, survivorshipatoz.org.

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He developed the site to serve as a one-stop shop to help people dealing with cancer, AIDS or any other serious illness as they navigate the health care system.

"The idea would be to give people all the legal, financial and practical information they need; so that when you first got that diagnosis and all these questions come charging at you, the answers would all be there," said Landay, who produced the Broadway show "Woman of the Year" with Lauren Bacall, Raquel Welch and Debbie Reynolds.

He recognized that when people get hit with devastating news they are often are confused about what to do. They may not have enough savvy about the health care industry to debunk common myths.

"Health insurance is the most important asset you have, but one of the myths is you can't get it. Well, you still can get health insurance," Landay said.

Even with health coverage, meeting medical financial obligations can be difficult.

"More than half of the bankruptcies in this country are due to medical costs, and a lot of those are people with health insurance," he said. "You've still got your co-pays. You've still got things that aren't insured, but that's not to say that you shouldn't have health insurance."

"People think the medical bill's set in stone. But realistically, there is no single medical bill. When you think about it, each doctor and provider probably has, for each different insurance company, a different price, a different price for Medicare and a different price for the uninsured person, which is usually higher," Landay said. "Why should you pay the higher price when the person next to us is paying a lower price?"

Take Charge of Your Medical Care

Landay wants people to take charge of their medical care by becoming educated consumers. He believes his Web site can help them do that. It has a host of consumer resources.

"Like one of the things to think about — maximizing your time with the doctor. Most people get seven minutes, maybe 10 minutes with a doctor. That's not a lot of time," Landay. "One of the things we do is we have a symptoms chart on this Web site. So you keep track of your symptoms.

"When you're ready to go to the doctor, you press a button and it turns it into a graph. Now in two seconds, the doctor sees everything that's happened to you since the last time you saw each other," he said.

Landay said it also is important for patients to realize a doctor is not going to tell them what to do. Instead, the physician will give suggested courses of treatment. He also said it's important for patients to feel that their doctors are right for them.

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