Being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment can take a physical and emotional toll on the body. But for many cancer patients and their families, it can also create financial burden that can be too hard to overcome.
According to a Duke University study published in 2011, cancer patients on average are expected to pay out of pocket of $8,500 annually. These out of pocket costs are medical expenses that are not covered by the health insurer at the time and as a result, can leave families contemplating on forgoing treatment or skipping doctor’s appointments.
A core reason why out of pocket costs are so high for cancer patients is because many of the non-medical expenses are unaccounted for. Costs such as transportation to and from hospital, absence from work and therapies that assist cancer patients recover from pain and side effects are generally not covered by any insurance policy but are vital parts in the process of receiving proper medical care.
Medical debt can continue to impact the family even after treatment. In fact, medical bankruptcy is almost double for cancer patients one year after diagnosis. This can result into long term stress, family breakdowns and even leave families unable to pay for basic living expenses like rent and food.
1. Fundraising For Financial Help
Individuals can also decide to fundraise for financial assistance with the help of family and friends. This can often be used on top of other methods of financial help that can be offered from non-profits, the government and your medical provider as it can cover any remaining costs associated with your cancer treatment and recovery.
There are many families that have decided to use fundraising as their only means of financial assistance. This is because of the range of benefits that can come with fundraising as compared to other forms of financial assistance.
While other financial help for cancer patients will have restrictions and limitations on who can apply and what the funds are used for, medical fundraising can offer cancer patients the ability to seek financial aid without any of these restrictions.
Patients can create a fundraiser at no cost to them and run a fundraiser free of charge. As a result, cancer patients can start receiving financial assistance immediately and choose how the funds are properly used in accordance to their medical treatment. This means there are no restrictions on how the funds are used or even how much a patient can fundraise for.
Cancer patients in the past have used medical fundraising to raise thousands of dollars within a short period of time. Fundraisers normally get the most support during the first few days or weeks of starting a fundraiser. This provides huge financial assistance to families instantly and gives cancer patients ease of mind in order to focus on their treatment and recovery.
One limitation that families may encounter is the ability to get donations. If you have a smaller network of support or are uncomfortable about letting your friends and family know about your illness, it can be difficult to receive financial aid in this method. This is normally the case for patients who are planning to fundraise online and are seeking support from friends and family.
These problems can be easily fixed by asking a close friend, family member or work colleague to become the lead fundraiser, where they are in-charge of sharing your fundraiser to friends and family. Having a lead fundraiser can also help overcome any problems you may experience during the course of your fundraiser.
2. Non-Profit Organizations
Charity organizations can be helpful in giving support to cancer patients, particularly organizations with a clear mission to help cancer patients.
Although majority of non-profit organizations available can give support, this support is often in the form of social or emotional support, rather than financial assistance. One of the biggest reasons why is because by law, charities are unable to give patients money directly. Instead, non-profit organizations are required to give free of charge services such as free transportation or provide funding through a grant.
Even so, one benefit of seeking help from a local charity is that cancer patients can receive referrals to other programs that may be better suited for their needs. They can also provide assistance in other forms that can still assist a patient like counseling or help to fill out applications for financial support.
Non-profit organizations that do provide financial help for cancer patients can have limited funding available. This means cancer patients may be rejected or only receive a small amount of financial assistance according to funding availability within the charity.
Regardless of the restrictions, non-profit organizations remain one of the best resources for cancer patients to find out more information about the available programs that can assist them.
Some charities that can be helpful to get started include American Cancer Society, CancerCare and United Way.
3. Pharmaceutical Patient Assistance Programs
Pharmaceutical companies run programs to help patients receive medication and treatment. These are known as pharmaceutical patient assistance programs, which can help cancer patients with the cost of prescription drugs and medication.
As part of their giving back strategy, pharmaceutical companies run these programs to help those who require the drug they specifically produce.
Each program run by a drug company will offer different benefits that cancer patients are able to receive. Some programs can help you with insurance reimbursement if you are having problems claiming off your health insurance policy, while others can offer co-pay relief programs for medication at your local pharmacy.
Co-pay relief programs are programs that will give you a rebate or discount on drugs purchased at your local pharmacy. It simply means, the pharmaceutical company will pay a portion of the cost, which is most commonly given through a reimbursement structure. As a result, patients need to be able to pay for the medication upfront and then seek a refund for the cost.
There are also programs that can provide discounted or even free medications for patients who do not have health insurance or who do not qualify for other means of assistance. These are limited to only a few individuals and are restricted for only a small period of time. For example, free access to drugs may be provided to the patient for up to 3 months per patient.
Although these benefits can help aid a cancer patient financially, there are restrictions to the type of drugs available for cancer patients on these assistance programs. Patients can find that some of the drugs available may not be suitable for their course of treatment, while others may find the drugs are not effective for them.
Often these programs will also have a set criteria to be eligible. Patients may be required to be in a particular stage of cancer, there may be age restrictions or patients must have insurance to even be eligible for the program.
Some programs also have restrictions on how long each cancer patient can receive benefits from the program. For example, you may only be allowed to receive treatment for free for a short period of time. This is particularly difficult if the medication is beneficial for you but you are unable to continue paying for the medication once the program ends.
Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) is a great resource that outlines all the available programs and their eligibility for each. This is the best way to determine whether pharmaceutical patient assistance programs are for you.
4. Government Assistance Programs
There are a large number of government benefits and support programs that are available specifically for individuals with cancer. Both federal and state programs can provide financial help to individuals and their families.
Although some of the financial assistance programs don’t directly give you funds to pay for your medical treatment, families who are classified as low-income earners can still benefit from these government programs such as Medicare and the provision of food stamps from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
These programs can often reduce the out of pocket cost for non-medical expenses if used correctly.
Many of these programs however, have long processes. This means families will be expected to provide documentation of income status, illness and medical bills in order for the process to start. Government forms and applications are a standard and patients may be expected to report fortnightly or monthly.
These government programs are open to all individuals who are low income earners, and do not give specific attention to those with cancer. Families can expect to wait several weeks before any financial assistance is received as a government official may need to review your application.
For cancer patients in need of urgent financial assistance, government support programs should be considered as a financial assistance option that is a long-term strategy instead, in order to avoid problems of unpaid medical bills.
5. Negotiation of Medical Bills
Negotiating your hospital bills can help reduce your medical expenses dramatically. On average, cancer patients can expect a reduction in their medical bill of 10 to 30 percent.
Cancer patients will have to speak to their doctor or medical provider to let them know of their current financial circumstances. This first step will allow open communication between you and your medical provider, which can help you find the best solution to overcome medical debt.
Although many patients can be scared to ask for help from doctors as they feel it could comprise their care and treatment, medical providers are more than willing to come up with a solution with you.
This is because medical providers, like any running business, need to be able to cover their costs. Patients who have medical debt may be referred to a debt collector if unpaid medical bills start to accumulate after a few weeks. Medical providers generally want to avoid this process and instead aim to work directly with you to come up with a solution.
By having an open discussion with you and finding a compromise between giving you treatment and receiving payments, negotiation can be a great way in relieving the financial burden of your medical bills.
Negotiating your for medical bills can also mean setting up a repayment plan that is acceptable for you and your doctor. This means you will be obligated to still pay for your medical expenses but through set repayments. This breaks up the cost instead of having to pay them all at once. One problem that can occur is if your circumstances in the future change. For example, unexpected loss of income that can affect your ability to make the repayments on time.
Offering a lump sum instead can be a great negotiation tactic to receive a substantial discount on your medical bill. With this option however, the problem for many cancer patients to be able to pay the the what’s left on a medical bill still remains.