British Columbia

B.C. man who opted out of MSP dies following battle with cancer

A man from Enderby, B.C., who was confronted with rising hospital bills after he opted out of the province’s Medical Services Plan has died following complications from metastatic cancer.

Ben Fuller, 43, was swamped with medical bills after his diagnosis. He died Thursday, his family said

Benjamin Fuller with his wife Kristina Fuller, left, and her mother Marie Olsen. Benjamin Fuller, who opted out of B.C.'s Medical Services Plan before being diagnosed with cancer, has died. (Lisa Wright)

A man from Enderby, B.C., who was confronted with rising hospital bills after he opted out of the province's Medical Services Plan (MSP) has died following complications from metastatic cancer.

Benjamin Fuller, 43, died early Thursday in hospital after suffering a blood clot in his lungs, according to family. 

"He was still talking in the beginning, but just gasping, raspy breaths, and I just told him how wonderful he had made our lives, and how much I loved our house, and shared memories of moments," said Kristina Fuller, Benjamin's wife. 

"Selfless, quiet and strong, he always put others first and never hesitated when called to help a friend or neighbour," Benjamin's obituary said of him. 

Opting out of MSP

Benjamin was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in February and faced thousands of dollars in hospital bills, as he had opted out of B.C.'s health insurance five years ago.

Kristina Fuller explains her husband opted out of the mandatory MSP program to save money.

"He thought the $35 was just additional services and not going to impact his regular services," Fuller said.

Benjamin, who grew up in Saskatchewan, mistakenly believed MSP premiums were made to cover supplemental procedures like X-rays, while he would still benefit from free national health care.

Despite the B.C. government eliminating monthly MSP premiums in 2020, Benjamin had to wait until July 1 for a 12-month opt out period to end. 

During that time, the government warned he would be "responsible for the payment of all medical, hospital and other health-care services." 

Kristina and Benjamin Fuller are shown in a light-hearted selfie on the left. Benjamin was undergoing palliative chemotherapy for metastatic colon cancer. (Kristina Fuller)

Mounting medical bills

Within three months of Benjamin's diagnosis the Fullers had accumulated more than $22,000 in medical bills for hospital visits, tests and prescriptions. 

The bills had become such a burden on the family that Fuller said her husband was avoiding treatment to lower costs. 

With the support of hospital staff and their local MLA the family mounted a desperate plea to the Ministry of Health for re-enrolment in MSP, but were denied.

However, a fundraising campaign to cover Benjamin's medical costs gained attention and brought the family some relief. 

"It felt really hard to receive money because I thought, 'Well, who am I, who are we to have strangers give to us?'"

"It was just an incredible help ... having the outpouring of love from just total strangers across the country really touched us," Fuller said.

One anonymous donor donated $5,000. 

"When we got that donation I just cried," she said. "We were both so touched by that and we wondered if there was a story there, or something that had inspired him to give so generously."

Kristina Fuller says she and her husband were touched by the generosity and kind words of people from around the country after Benjamin's story was shared by CBC News in May. (Kristina Fuller)

Unfortunately, Benjamin's condition was deemed incurable by his oncologist, so he was prescribed palliative chemotherapy to extend his life. 

Fuller says complications persisted and her husband's pain increased.

Though the couple experienced some relief with the ability to re-enrol in MSP on July 1 — meaning Benjamin's new health-care related expenses were covered — the feeling was short-lived.

"When July 1 came it was definitely a relief for both of us to just be like, OK, we are now covered in every medical way, so it felt good, but it didn't last long enough."

Stopping treatment

Fuller says Benjamin's oncologist revealed that his blood work was not favourable for more chemotherapy, and so he decided to stop treatment. 

They said the oncologist told them he had weeks to live, but two days later he was admitted to hospital and died in his family's arms. 

Now, with health-care bills that Fuller has tallied at more than $45,000, she has the added cost of paying for funeral arrangements. 

A crowdfunding page has been set up to help cover those costs. 

The family is having a celebration of life with close friends on Sunday. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cory Correia

Associate Producer and Video Journalist

Send tips or comments to cory.correia@cbc.ca

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