Health Advice



She received chemo in two states. Why did it cost so much more in Alaska?

Arielle Zionts, KFF Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Emily Gebel was trying to figure out why she was having trouble breastfeeding. That’s when she felt a lump.

Gebel, a mother of two, went to her primary care doctor in Juneau, Alaska, who referred her for testing, she said.

Her 9-month-old was asleep in her arms when she got the results.

“I got the call from my primary care nurse telling me it was cancer. And I remember I just sat there for probably at least another half an hour or so and cried,” Gebel said.

Juneau, the state capital, has about 31,700 residents, who are served by the city-owned Bartlett Regional Hospital. But Gebel said she has several friends who have also had cancer, all of whom recommended she seek treatment out of town because they felt bigger cities would have better care.

She opted for treatment in Seattle, the closest major American city to Alaska. She underwent surgery at Virginia Mason Medical Center in September 2022. In January, she began chemotherapy at Lifespring Cancer Treatment Center, a stand-alone clinic that she said she selected because it offers a lower-dose chemotherapy.


During chemo, she learned she had stage 4 breast cancer, she said.

Commuting to Seattle for chemo every week — nonstop flights that lasted as long as two hours and 45 minutes — became tiring. So Gebel began treatment at Bartlett Regional Hospital after her Seattle doctor taught hospital staffers there how to administer her chemo regimen.

Then the bill came.

The Patient: Emily Gebel, 37, insured through her husband’s employer by Premera Blue Cross. She was previously covered by Moda Health.


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©2023 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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