Getting Help With the Bills
- Georgia Tech women’s basketball associate head coach Tasha Butts is fighting for her life following a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. But her unfortunate situation has inspired her to help others with the financial burden that comes with cancer treatment.
- Many people struggle with medical bills, including Butts. However, there are resources to assist that you may not know about.
- Those resources include your oncologist (as an advocate), social workers, patient assistance programs and foundations created to help people pay their treatment bills.
She’s on a mission; she’s advocating for equal access to quality health care for all people of the United States because she knows first-hand how crippling the bills can be when fighting cancer.Read More
“I know the bills that I pull out of my mailbox and how I feel when I get them,” Butts, 39, told ESPN. “I can only imagine if you’re a woman battling breast cancer and you don’t have the resources that I’ve been afforded, how are you going to battle this disease?”
In order to make this mission a reality, Georgia Tech’s athletic department has partnered with the Play4Kay initiative and committed to raising $100,000 over the next two years, according to ESPN. Once this is achieved, the Kay Yow Cancer Fund will award $150,000 to Northside Hospital in Atlanta, Ga. (The cause is especially close to Tasha’s heart, as Northside is where she received treatment for her metastatic breast cancer.)
“It’s bigger than me,” she said.
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Getting Help With the Bills
Some people say that paying for cancer treatment ends up being more challenging than the treatment itself.
It’s something most people struggle with, including Butts as she fights metastatic breast cancer. However, there are resources that you may not know about.
It’s common for doctors to get on the phone and advocate on your behalf with your insurance company. Many drug companies and clinical trials also offer patient assistance programs.
Dr. Allyson Ocean, a medical oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet she’s on the phone with insurance companies nearly every day, trying to make sure her patients can get the treatment they need, and get it paid for.
“My best advice to work around the system of whether or not drugs or tests can be covered for cancer is to make sure you have an advocate in your field working for you,” Dr. Ocean said. “The frustrating part for me is that sometimes we even have to educate the insurance companies and say, ‘There’s a reason why I want to use this medicine.’”
Connect With a Social Worker
Dr. Nina Shah, a hematologist at the University of California San Francisco, previously told SurvivorNet that when it comes to the high costs associated with cancer treatment — sometimes called “financial toxicity” — it can be helpful for patients to speak with social workers.
The social workers at your cancer care clinic can help guide you through the various options.
“The best way to look at this and find the resources that are available is to speak with the social worker associated with (your cancer center),” Dr. Shah said. “Because that person usually knows what resources are available and what you can do to access them.”
Patient Assistance Programs
Physicians and the navigators who help patients, like metastatic breast cancer patient Butts, have said that when it comes to the cost of a specific cancer drug or treatment, the assistance programs offered by pharmaceutical companies can help those of us who can’t afford the full cost.
Most big drug companies have programs like these in place. While there may be maximum income thresholds, it can be useful to simply ask. In the case of newer medications, drugmakers often will make exceptions as they want as many people as possible taking their products.
Navigating approval criteria can be very tricky — an example of a circumstance in which social workers can be a big help.
Get in Touch With Foundations Set Up to Help With Bills
There are a number of nonprofit and advocacy organizations that have programs in place to financially support those who can’t pay for the costs associated with their care, such as the organization Butts is helping raise money for, the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.
Another example is the Lazarex Cancer Foundation. This foundation reimburses patients for the costs associated with clinical trial participation. Other organizations such as the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Cancer Support Community may help patients secure lodging and travel for their care.
Understanding Metastatic Breast Cancer
Tasha Butts was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in November 2021, and made a formal announcement about her diagnosis the following month. She kept her diagnosis for as long as she could; she didn’t want it to be all about her.
“This has not been an easy discovery,” Butts said in a prepared statement issued by the school, according to ESPN. “I never thought I’d be sitting here dealing with this disease. But I have full confidence in my doctors, my faith, who I am and who I was taught to be, which is a fighter.”
“I want to, and hope to be, an example and an inspiration for others who may be experiencing the same thing,” she added.
Stage 4, or metastatic, cancers have spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body. When breast cancer spreads, it most commonly goes to the bones, liver and lungs. It may also spread to the brain or other organs. It’s unclear where in Tasha’s body her cancer has spread.
Breast cancer mostly occurs in older women, but it’s possible for women under the age of 45 — like Butts, who is 39 years old — to be diagnosed with this disease. In fact, about 9% of all new breast cancer cases in the U.S. are found in women younger than 45, which is more concerning considering organizations like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ACS don’t recommend women get yearly mammograms until they turn 45.
In some ways, a diagnosis for a younger woman can often be even more devastating, Dr. Ann Partridge, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, tells SurvivorNet in a previous interview.
This is because “young women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer that is more aggressive,” Dr. Partridge said. “Their disease is more likely to be of the subtypes of breast cancer, because breast cancer isn’t one disease — the ones that are more aggressive and tend to be what we call a greater stage. That is, they’re more likely to have bigger tumors and more likely to have lymph node involvement at diagnosis than older women.”
Contributing: Constance Costas