Financial Help for Cancer Patients: Resources and Organizations

| 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 cases of cancer in 2019 alone.

A cancer diagnosis 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, as well as a guide to finding help for cancer patients’ families with financially challenging situations.

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. 
  • AARP found that the average cost of treatment is $150,000 for a person battling cancer.
  • According to a Milliman report, cancer patients are two and a half times more likely to file for bankruptcy.

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. For example, travel, food, and lodging, and other life expenses must be considered. Caitlin Donovan, 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, 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, community member, 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. 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 medicine, the cost for providing that medicine could be astronomical. It’s best to double-check with your insurance provider to know exactly what legal 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 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 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 cancer financial assistance programs specific to you, 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. You can also seek help from other organizations that help cancer patients financially in your area. 

Government financial assistance for cancer patients

A number of 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. 

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 that help cancer patients financially now exist. Note that some groups may only provide aid to patients battling a specific type of cancer, 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 strong support system from friends and family. If your friends and family are looking for ways they can support you, consider crowdfunding. There are a number of excellent organizations that help cancer patients financially by providing an easy way to start an online fundraiser. 

A fundraiser is a great way to and 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. Your fundraiser will also serve as a space where you can post text, photo, video, or even blog 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 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

There are numerous organizations that 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 cancer fundraiser and we’ll be here to support you every step of the way.

Start a cancer fundraiser