A cancer diagnosis of any kind is a jolt. But after the tidal wave of anxiety about your physical future subsides, another daunting question stares you in the face.
How am I going to pay for this?
The cost of treating cancer can be enormous. Prescription medications for some cancers can cost tens of thousands of dollars per month. The total cost of treatment is virtually impossible to calculate up front, because so many variables are in play.
And let’s face it. Most insurance plans only go so far. The very thought of paying the balance can be crippling. You might even consider ignoring your doctors or skipping treatments.
Stop right there.
“Never assume ‘I can’t get treatment because I can’t afford it,’” said Thelma Baker, MSN, director of Oncology Services for OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, Illinois. “We don’t want patients put in that situation where they have to decide not to have treatment because of financial considerations. There are many resources available, and we are here to help you.”
Consider the ‘hidden costs’
It’s important to understand what goes into figuring the total cost of fighting cancer.
That first visit with your primary care provider, screening and diagnostic tests are only the beginning. Once cancer is confirmed, you’ll visit specialists and determine a treatment plan. Treatment can range from relatively simple outpatient procedures to chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Specialists, prescriptions and fees for equipment, facilities and labs all get added to the bill. Next are follow-ups, which are spread over months and years and can last a lifetime. You might require home care.
Then there are the so-called “hidden costs.” They don’t always show up on a bill, but they are very real:
- Basic transportation costs to and from your treatments and provider visits
- Overnight travel, lodging and food costs if your treatment is not close to home
- Lost wages from time off work, which can range from treatment days to temporary disability or permanent job loss
- Specialized grocery lists to help you maintain a healthy diet
“People often assume they have good insurance or a lot of money in the bank. But cancer can burn through that in a hurry,” Thelma said. “We don’t want cancer to wipe out your life savings and impact your quality of life. We want to make sure you are looking ahead long term. And we are connecting you to resources that can help you survive this bout with cancer.”
Financial guidance program
Restoring your health is the No. 1 priority. So the first questions you ask your provider after a cancer diagnosis should be about your treatment plan. But then, be sure to ask about financial counseling to help you deal with the billing and insurance process and out-of-pocket expenses. It’s possible your provider will beat you to the punch on that subject. But if they don’t, you bring it up.
OSF HealthCare provides patient financial navigators to help guide you through this part of your survivorship journey.
“We have a robust program, and we’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort and training to make sure we can help people through this process,” said Stephanie Wilfong, manager, Patient Financial Clearance for OSF HealthCare.
Needing financial guidance?
They can assist with:
- Reviewing your insurance benefits and deductibles
- Determining your out-of-pocket responsibilities
- Estimating out-of-pocket costs
- Identifying “hidden” expenses
- Finding less expensive prescription options
- Referring you to a financial planner for budgeting assistance
Finding resources to cover expenses
If you get a cancer diagnosis, you might discover your health insurance plan doesn’t cover as much as you thought it would. Don’t panic.
“Don’t assume nothing can be done,” Thelma said. “You might be in a window where a financial navigator can move you to another coverage. Maybe you can look to other options, like Medicaid. Or if there’s a disability involved, you can qualify for Medicare or Medicaid.”
Stephanie added: “Some commercial coverage is harder to change, but some are just a quick call. Our staff is trained in Medicare Parts A and B, and we understand what those supplements are.”
Understand your cancer risk
One thing you can do while you are healthy is determine your risk factor for certain cancers. Know your family medical history. Schedule an exam with a primary care provider and specifically ask them about your cancer risk. Or talk to a genetic counselor.
If you have a heightened risk for cancer, you may want to consider purchasing supplemental cancer insurance.
“Not everybody can afford one, but a cancer policy that helps supplement your regular health insurance can be huge,” Thelma said. “If you are at higher risk and you can afford the premiums, you absolutely should consider investing in that type of policy.”
Getting the care you need
If you are uninsured, you may be eligible for special grants or prescriptions at little to no out-of-pocket cost.
“The scope of what we provide for OSF patients is very large, because we are invested in them,” Thelma said. “We don’t want you to decide not to get treated because you can’t afford it. We’re about making sure you get the care you need and we will work with you through the financial impact of your cancer.”