A diagnosis of cancer is never easy, but it can be even more stressful when you’re struggling to pay for costly treatments and medications. For some patients, the financial burden is apparent at diagnosis, while for others, it builds up over the course of years of treatment. If you’re not sure where to turn for financial help, read on: There are government, nonprofit and private resources available—and people who can help you sort through the options.
Patients are often embarrassed to discuss financial issues, but they need to reach out. “People [need] to speak up before cancer becomes a tremendous financial crisis,” says Jane Levy, the director of Patient Assistance Programs for CancerCare, a national patient advocacy and support organization.
One place to start is with government programs. Medicaid provides health insurance for low-income individuals and families who meet its requirements. Since Medicaid laws vary from state to state, you’ll want to visit the Medicaid website to learn how the program operates in your state, says Levy. Patients with cancer may also qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Not all cancer patients are considered disabled, but those with advanced cancer are sometimes considered disabled by Social Security’s definition.
Another place to turn is your local hospital, where you may find programs that are available for uninsured and underinsured patients. The federal government’s Hill-Burton program provides funds to hospitals for free or low-cost services for low-income families. Most hospitals have financial counselors or a business office that may be able to help patients understand financial options, says Levy. It’s also a good idea to visit a hospital social worker, who could help you determine what assistance programs your hospital offers. Your hospital social worker can also help you understand your options and find other resources in your community.
Not all individuals qualify for government or low-income assistance, but there are many nonprofit and private organizations that provide financial aid and advice to patients facing cancer. CancerCare, for example, offers patients a number of support services, including financial assistance, says Levy. It provides small grants for medically related services, such as treatment and medication, and also works with organizations such as the Avon Foundation and Susan G. Komen for the Cure to offer generous grants for women with breast cancer. In addition to these grants, CancerCare social workers can help patients find assistance beyond CancerCare, including resources from state agencies and state-run treatment funds.
The Patient Advocate Foundation is another national organization that helps cancer patients deal with the financial difficulties of their illnesses. “We assist patients with chronic, debilitating or life-threatening illnesses….with [gaining] access to care,” says Cynthia Hucks, the executive vice president of patient service programs at the Patient Advocate Foundation. Among its support activities, the foundation runs the Co-Pay Relief Program, which assists insured patients with breast, lung and prostate cancer cover the costs of their prescription co-pays. Beyond its co-pay program, the Patient Advocate Foundation matches patients with case managers who can help patients explore other resources and insurance issues, such as denied claims, says Donna McQuistian Sternberg, the former executive vice president of patient services at the Patient Advocate Foundation. The organization also maintains a network of lawyers, the National Legal Resource Network, which can help patients who feel they have wrongly been denied coverage.
For help covering the cost of prescription drugs, patients can also contact the Partnership for Prescription Assistance. Made up of pharmaceutical companies, health care providers and advocacy groups, the partnership helps patients without prescription coverage obtain low-cost and free medicine.
Aside from medical and prescription coverage, many cancer patients face other financial needs during cancer treatment. Several national organizations can assist you with practical support, such as transportation, cost-of-living expenses and wigs. For instance, the American Cancer Society (ACS) operates local offices throughout the nation that patients can contact to explore various types of assistance. The United Way, like the ACS, also has locations in communities throughout the United States that can help patients find local services. Because it is has an international scope, the United Way is also a good resource for people living outside the United States.
In addition to organizations like the ACS and the United Way, which help people who are affected by any type of cancer, there are national groups that assist people with specific types of cancer, such as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, or who fall into particular patient populations. One place to find these organizations is on our website’s list of support and advocacy groups.
Many local programs can also help you with non-medical expenses such as rent and child care. In many cases, cancer patients may be more likely to find non-medical assistance through these local organizations than national ones, says Donna Duncan, the executive director of the Linda Creed Breast Cancer Foundation in Philadelphia. The Linda Creed foundation, for example, maintains an emergency assistance fund that provides non-medical financial aid for qualified women in the Philadelphia region who are undergoing breast cancer treatment. In Oklahoma, patients with brain tumors can find financial help through the Oklahoma Brain Tumor Foundation. A good way to find resources that are available in your state is by searching the Patient Advocate Foundation’s State by State Financial Resource Guide.
Cancer can be a very expensive illness, and it’s important to find out what resources are available to you. If you’re concerned about the cost of your treatment, contacting an organization or a social worker for advice can help keep your financial concerns from becoming a financial crisis.
– Alanna Kennedy
Organizations and programs mentioned in this article:
American Cancer Society
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Linda Creed Breast Cancer Foundation
Oklahoma Brain Tumor Foundation
Partnership for Prescription Assistance
Patient Advocate Foundation
Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Additional organizations to contact about financial aid or advice include:
The Center for Patient Partnerships
Corporate Angel Network
Health Resources and Services Administration
Lymphoma Research Foundation
For more information on groups that might provide financial assistance, see the list of support and advocacy groups on the Survivors and Advocates website.
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August 5, 2011