Top Financial Help and Resources for Cancer Patients 

| 8 min read Financial Assistance

Cancer has unfortunately touched the lives of almost everyone in the world, whether directly or indirectly. And the number of people continues to grow—the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that there will be roughly 1.7 million new cancer cases in 2019 alone.

A cancer diagnosis undoubtedly puts massive psychological stress on patients and their families. For many, the financial cost of cancer care can be equally as challenging as the diagnosis. With that in mind, we’re here to provide you with resources about financial help for cancer patients. Here’s a brief overview of the common physical, financial, and emotional effects of cancer and a guide to finding help for cancer patients’ families with financially challenging situations.

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The true cost of cancer

  • A report from Duke Cancer Institute found that patients are spending, on average, 11% of a household’s income on the cost of cancer treatment. 
  • Patients with cancer often sacrifice basic needs like food and utilities to afford treatment, leading to increased anxiety and depression.
  • AARP found that the average cost of treatment is $150,000 for a person battling cancer.

Prepare for out of pocket cancer costs

Patients not only face the direct expenses of medical care but also have to take into account the peripheral costs and arrangements, such as travel, food, lodging, and other daily expenditures. It’s important to think about financial resources for cancer patients. 

Caitlin Donovan, Sr. Director of Outreach & Public Affairs at the Patient Advocate Foundation, offers a few ways you can prepare:

Stay in your health insurance network

The health insurance system in the United States is complicated but also highly specific. For instance, it may seem simple to choose a hospital in-network, but what if some doctors in that hospital are out of network? Or, what if the hospital sends tests to a lab out of network? 

“The biggest costs are out of network costs, so newly diagnosed patients should try to stay in-network as much as possible,” Donovan says. “Think about staying in-network and how far you have to go to do that and how much will it cost to get there. Transportation is the number one issue that patients call us about. The average amount patients need in rural areas for transport is $22 each way to go to chemo treatment.”

“If you need surgery, there could be a lot of unexpected costs,” Donovan says. “Make sure that everyone is in-network, including the anesthesiologist; check on all of them individually. You have to make multiple phone calls. It’s amazing how often people don’t know if they are in-network. You need to ask.”

Consider childcare costs and other expenses

There may be a chance that your childcare costs will increase if you’re not feeling well or recovering from surgery. If you have the flexibility, see if you can find a friend, community member, or relative willing and able to help out for free as soon as possible. 

Also, consider any other new costs that may come up in the future when considering financial aid for cancer patients. For instance, pulling things over their head after surgery may hurt, so you may want to invest in a few staple pieces of clothing to make their healing process more comfortable post-surgery.

Take into account lost wages from time off work

Consider how much time you’ll have to take off work for treatment and speak to your HR department about how much you need to work to keep your health insurance coverage. Learn how to protect yourself in your workplace—have conversations and ask clarifying questions about your benefits beyond insurance with your HR department, including short- or long-term disability. 

To provide an idea of what you could expect, a study by the Department of Health Administration at Virginia Commonwealth University found that women treated for breast cancer missed an average of 44.5 days of work, and men diagnosed with prostate cancer missed an average of 27 days. Overall, oncology patients are likely to miss 22 more days of work per year than employees who aren’t battling cancer.

Pay attention to cancer drug costs and rules

It’s important to be aware that numerous rules affiliated with cancer medicines can result in large bills that patients must cover. For example, some insurance plans require patients to receive drugs mailed from a specialty pharmacy. 

The patient is then responsible for bringing the drug to the care facility to receive their treatment. If the patient does not bring their own medicine and the care facility has to provide it, the cost of it could be astronomical. It’s best to double-check with your insurance provider to know exactly what legal steps you should take to ensure you don’t get stuck with a big bill after treatment.

Financial assistance for cancer patients: It pays to ask

Even with private health insurance, government programs, and nonprofit grants, help for cancer patients to pay bills is still very much needed. If you’re having trouble voicing your financial concerns to your insurance provider or health care professional, here are some easy ways to bring up the subject as you develop your treatment plan:

  • “I’m worried about how much cancer treatment will cost. What cancer care financial assistance is available to me?”
  • “I know this may be expensive. Where can I go to get an idea of the total costs of treatment?”
  • “Will my health insurance pay for this treatment? How much of the total cost will it cover?”
  • “I’m concerned about the cost of this treatment. Are there other treatment options you would recommend that are less expensive?”

If you have questions about cancer financial assistance programs or state benefits for cancer patients, speak with your doctor or hospital social worker—the hospital business office should have helpful information and additional relief resources. 

Don’t be afraid to ask—you deserve education regarding all the financial assistance options available to you to cover the cost of cancer care. You can also seek help from other organizations that help cancer patients financially in your area. 

Government financial assistance for cancer patients

Many national and state programs provide free financial help for cancer patients. Some agencies, like the Department of Social Services, even provide food and housing assistance for cancer patients. Note that many government assistance programs only service low-income households, and each program has unique eligibility requirements, but it’s important to understand any state benefits available for cancer patients. 

Financial assistance from pharmaceutical companies

PhRMA’s medical assistance tool has a list of pharmaceutical programs providing financial help for cancer patients. Note that your doctor may be able to prescribe medications that qualify for these programs. Services often differ under pharmaceutical assistance plans, but some may include:

  •     Financial help with insurance reimbursement
  •     Referrals to copay-relief programs
  •     Help with the prescription assistance application process
  •     Discounted or free medication for those who qualify

Financial help from nonprofits for cancer patients

With the cost of cancer climbing, several nonprofit organizations that help cancer patients financially now exist. Note that some groups may only provide financial aid for cancer patients battling a specific type, and each organization has unique eligibility requirements. You can call or email any of the following for more information:

Fundraising can help provide financial aid for cancer patients 

When you’re fighting cancer, it helps to have a robust support system from friends and family. If your friends and family are looking for ways they can support you, consider crowdfunding. There are many excellent organizations that help cancer patients financially by providing an easy way to start an online fundraiser

A fundraiser is a great way to ask your community to donate to help you in your fight to get healthy. It creates a space for friends and family to stay connected and leave words of encouragement, and it’s a great way to provide help for cancer patients to pay bills. Your fundraiser will also be a space to post text, photos, videos, or even blog updates to let loved ones know how your treatment is going. Share the fundraise on Instagram, Tiktok, and other social media to spread the word.

In the US, starting or managing your fundraiser on GoFundMe is free. However, there is one small transaction fee per donation that covers all your fundraising needs. Everything else goes directly to your cause because that’s what matters most. Not sure where to start in organizing your fundraiser? Look at these fundraisers for inspiration: #RichardsArmy Against Lymphoma, Cancer Sucks: Fitz Fights Melanoma, and Help Dave fight a brain tumor.

Cancer fundraising resources

Get cancer care financial assistance when you need it most

Numerous organizations help cancer patients financially and emotionally. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when it comes to healthcare. Every day, people battling cancer and their loved ones raise funds for treatment on GoFundMe. We’ve made it easy to start a fundraiser so you can get the financial resources for cancer patients your loved one needs, and we’ll be here to support you every step of the way.

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Written by GoFundMe