Life-Saving Treatment and $0 Owed


For Joe Aguirre, there was no better news than hearing that his cancer was completely gone. But learning that his costly treatment was entirely covered by his health insurance was very welcomed news as well.

Aguirre is a UPS package car driver and member of Local 396 in Los Angeles. He has driven the same route for 23 years. When Aguirre was hit with the life-threatening illness, he was grateful to not have the added worry about paying for his extended treatment.

Aguirre used to be covered under the UPS health insurance plan, but after the current contract was ratified, he moved to the new Western Region/Local 177 health insurance plan. Before switching plans, he went to get his physical for his DOD card and the doctors found some irregularities in his tests. He was ultimately diagnosed with a very serious form of bone cancer. Aguirre’s bones became so brittle that he ended up with multiple fractures in his vertebrae.

After nearly five months of non-radiation chemotherapy, he thought he could go back to work. But his doctor delivered the bad news that unless he got a stem cell transplant, his future did not look good. His blood was removed. The stem cells were extracted and then reintroduced into his system. He spent two weeks in a bubble at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center because, during the process, his immune system became so weak that he was at risk of illness and infection.

After all of the treatments and six months of hospitalization, Aguirre was given financial paperwork showing that although he received $500,000 in treatments, his balance was $0. His new health insurance plan paid for everything.

“It was incredible. My union benefits got me through this. There was no way that I could have gotten through it without it,” Aguirre said. “It was scary going into the financial office of the hospital until they told me it was going to be all paid for.”

Even Aguirre’s oncologist was amazed at the level of coverage that he had.

It was a long road, but Aguirre is now back at work and his cancer is completely undetectable. He continues to get regular check-ups from his oncologist, but never has to pay more than $10 for a co-pay.

“I was fortunate to receive the care that is beyond reach for millions of people,” Aguirre said.