Resources on Financial Help for Cancer Patients
- Financial counselors are available at some cancer centers and can help devise a payment plan for people with no or limited health insurance.
- Some centers have social workers and/or patient navigators on staff who can help with many aspects of the cancer journey (including financial planning).
- If you need to take time off of work, there are state and federal disability programs that can offer support.
- Some health insurance plans also offer private disability coverage. You may need to speak with your job’s HR department to determine what you are eligible for.
- There are also private foundations that sometimes help low-income patients pay for treatment.
One question that may be harder to answer: How much will it cost?Read More
Paying for Cancer With Limited Health Coverage
What do you do if you don’t have health insurance, or your insurance won’t cover enough of the costs?
Health insurance plans vary widely. While some offer lower deductibles, which means you pay less money upfront and the plan starts paying sooner. But others have a much higher threshold before the plan starts covering costs.
High-deductible plans may be a reason people avoid doctor appointments or seeking treatment, because the out-of-pocket costs may be too great to bear.
In addition, some plans may not offer sufficient coverage for time off work and other needs that might arise.
According to Ostacher, insufficient health insurance coverage is often particularly challenging for younger patients.
"Sometimes when folks are younger, they don't purchase a plan," she says, explaining they are then left on their own to cover the cost of treatment.
In other cases, says Ostacher, "people may purchase a plan with a high deductible, assuming they won't get ill." In this case, a patient will need to pay a high cost before the insurance coverage kicks in.
Adding to the challenge is the difficulty of calculating or even estimating what the total cost of treatment will be.
"It's often hard to get hard and fast numbers," says Ostacher.
Bills may come from the hospital, the cancer specialist, the anesthesiologist, the pharmacy, and others, leaving people unable to predict how much they’ll need to pay altogether.
Recognizing the problem, many cancer centers have financial counselors who can sit down one-on-one with patients before treatment to go over the anticipated costs and help come up with a reasonable payment plan.
If you have a choice in where you go for treatment, finding an institution with financial counselors on staff can be important. If the hospital or cancer center where you’re being treated doesn’t offer in-house counselors, a private financial counselor may also be able to help.
Taking time off work
While some people are able to continue working at or near their usual hours during treatment, others may need to adjust their schedules or take a leave of absence from their job. Medical social workers like Ostacher can work with you to determine what work schedule would be right for you.
Taking time off from work can pose its own financial concerns, as most employers offer only a set number of paid sick days.
"Most people are working when they're diagnosed, and finances are a significant issue for them," says Ostacher. “For those who want to take some time off and are able to take time off, I’ll talk to them about the disability programs that exist."
State disability programs can offer support during unpaid sick leave, though how much support they provide differs depending on what state you live in.
There’s also a federal disability program that can provide relief, though it also offers different amounts of money depending on people’s individual situation and financial circumstances.
A medical social worker can evaluate your income and estimate how much money you’re likely to receive from these programs. These professionals also provide advice on how to apply for these programs.
Finally, many health insurance plans offer private disability coverage.
"Sometimes people aren’t even aware that they have it," says Ostacher, who works with patients to determine what their insurance plan covers.
"Oftentimes it will involve speaking to the HR department and then trying to estimate, between your private and public disability, how much money you’ll have and for how long."
Accessing financial help from foundations
Another option for financial help comes from charitable foundations, which can help low-income people pay for the care they need. According to Ostacher, "social workers can help you access those resources and apply."
For many cancer patients, the financial impact of the disease can be as stressful as the disease itself. Addressing financial concerns soon after your diagnosis can help ease your worry over the course of treatment, allowing you to focus on the more important task of getting well.