Another major concern for cancer patients is the expense involved in treatment. Chemotherapy drugs, radiation therapy and prescription medications, while all proven to be effective, are far from affordable for most patients. Blood tests, biopsies and office visits add to the cost. Not only do treatment schedules themselves carry a high price tag, many patients must miss work due to doctor’s visits and medical side effects in addition to the weakness brought on by the illness itself. For those patients with employer-paid health insurance benefits, some of the treatment costs may still not be covered by their respective policies. For those without health insurance, the financial burden may be too much to overcome.
Many avenues are open for patients who may be overcome by rising medical bills. Federal and state government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid offer coverage to eligible applicants. The Veterans Administration has several programs available to those who have served in uniform. Non-profit organizations such as CancerCare and the Patient Advocate Foundation can provide information on how to obtain financial aid for cancer treatments.
One avenue that many patients use to soften the financial impact of treatment is to participate in clinical trials. Most cancer research facilities and pharmaceutical firms conduct clinical trials to judge the efficacy of new cancer treatments. After they have successfully completed the animal testing stage, they look for human volunteers to test out their new therapies. Patients incur no costs during these trails and receive careful supervision from the trial administrators and physicians during the course of the experiment.
For those patients concerned about cost issues during treatment, some questions that the American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends to ask are:
- Will the person in charge of billing for services help me work with my health insurance company/provider?
- If I need multiple visits to a doctor’s office, is there a policy where I can pay the co-pay only once or not at all (called a waiver)?
- Are there ways to change my treatment schedule, if necessary, to work around my job or child care?
- What expenses will I have if I join a clinical trial?
- For medications for side effects, is there an over-the-counter medicine that has the same effect as the prescribed drug? Is it less expensive?
- Is there free or low-cost transportation for patients at the medical center where I will have treatment?
- If I have trouble paying for basic items, like food or heat, due to the cost of my cancer treatment, are there organizations that can help me?
- Should I plan financially for long-term medical care, such as a nursing home or hospice care?
- Where can I find out if my medical and related expenses can be deducted from federal income taxes?
Patients can find a comprehensive list of questions at Cancer.Net.
Another task that comes with managing the financial portion of treatment is dealing with the paperwork and bureaucracy involved in the process. Hospital bills, insurance claims and other forms that require the patient’s attention can take away the vital energy that they need during treatment. Financial professionals such as CPAs can help navigate through the red tape, pay household bills and keep everything on budget. They can also help with finding out which treatment costs are tax-deductible and where to locate additional funding for treatment.