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 cases of cancer in 2019 alone.
Cancer undoubtedly puts a huge amount of psychological stress on patients and their families, and 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—along with financial resources that can help you get the treatment you need.
The true cost of cancer
- A report from Duke Cancer Institute in 2017 found that patients are spending on average 11% of a household’s income on the cost of cancer treatment.
- According to ACS’s Cancer Action Network, in 2014 American cancer patients paid nearly $4 billion out-of-pocket for cancer treatment.
- According to a Milliman report, cancer patients are two and a half times more likely to file for bankruptcy, and patients who file for bankruptcy are more likely to have received cancer treatment.
Prepare for out of pocket cancer costs
Aside from the immediate costs of medical treatment, patients also need to focus on secondary costs and the logistics of their treatment, advises Caitlin Donovan, Director of Outreach & Public Affairs at the Patient Advocate Foundation. Here are a few ways you can prepare:
Stay in your health insurance network
The health insurance system in the United States is complicated, and also highly specific. For instance, it may seem simple to choose a hospital in-network, but what if some of the 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 or relative who is willing and able to help out for free as soon as possible. Also, try to consider any other new costs that may come up in the future. For instance, it may hurt to pull things over your head after surgery, so you may want to invest in a few staple pieces of clothing that will make your 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 of work for treatment and to 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 either short or long term disability.
To provide an idea of what you could expect, a 2006 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 compared to employees who aren’t battling cancer.
Pay attention to cancer drug costs and rules
It’s important to be aware that there are also numerous rules affiliated with cancer medicines that can result in large bills that patients have to cover. As an example, some insurance plans require patients to receive drugs mailed from a specialty pharmacy, and 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 medicine, the cost for providing that medicine could be astronomical. It’s best to double check with your insurance provider to know exactly what steps you should be taking to make sure that 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 aid, many cancer patients still need additional financial assistance for the cost of cancer treatment. If you’re having trouble voicing your financial concerns to your insurance provider or healthcare 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 resources are 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 financial assistance programs specific to you, speak with your doctor or hospital social worker—the hospital business office should have helpful information and additional resources. Don’t be afraid to ask—you deserve to have access to information around financial assistance. Local volunteer organizations may offer financial assistance as well.
Government financial assistance for cancer patients
A number of federal and state programs provide financial help to cancer patients. Many government assistance programs are only available to low-income households and each program has unique eligibility requirements. Check to see if you qualify.
- Social Security
- Department of Health & Human Services
- U.S. Administration on Aging
- Veterans Administration
Financial assistance from pharmaceutical companies
The Partnership for Prescription Assistance 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 cancer expenses climbing, several nonprofit organizations now exist to assist cancer patients who are seeking financial help. Note that some organizations may only support patients battling a specific type of cancer, and each organization has unique eligibility requirements.
- CancerCare Co-Payment Assistance Foundation
- Chronic Disease Fund
- Healthwell Foundation
- The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Co-Pay Assistance Program
Fundraising for cancer patients can help cover treatment costs
When you’re fighting cancer, it helps to have a strong support system from friends and family. If your friends and family are looking for ways they can support you, start a crowdfunding fundraiser and ask them to donate to help you in your fight to get healthy. A fundraiser creates a space for friends and family to stay connected and leave words of encouragement. Your fundraiser will also serve as a space where you can post text, photo, and video updates to let loved ones know how your treatment is going.
With our free fundraising model, you can put as much money as possible towards winning your fight against cancer. Not sure where to start in organizing your fundraiser? Take a look at these campaigns 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
There are numerous organizations out there to assist patients with all aspects of their cancer treatment, from the emotional impact to the financial burden. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Every day, people battling cancer and their loved ones raise funds for treatment on GoFundMe. We’ve made it easy to start a cancer fundraiser and we’ll be here to support you every step of the way.