Q. I think I may have cancer but I don't have any insurance and I'm not sure I can afford it. What can I do?

A.

I understand your concern about the cost, but if you think you have cancer, you can’t afford not to visit the doctor. Cancer responds to treatment better when it’s caught early, and if it turns out that you don’t have it, you will have peace of mind.

There are 3 main ways to get health insurance:

  1. Through an employer, union, professional association or other job-related source. If you have a job and your employer offers health insurance, ask if you’re eligible to receive it or buy into it. If you had insurance but lost your job within the last 60 days, ask if you’re eligible for COBRA. COBRA is a law that lets you keep your insurance for 18 months, sometimes longer. You pay the full cost. If you are self-employed, see if there is a professional association in your state that offers group coverage at discounted rates. If you are a small business owner, check with your local Chamber of Commerce.
  2. Buy it on your own.Compare plans and prices by speaking with an insurance broker or visiting an online broker like www.ehealthinsurance.com. Please note that your rights as a consumer are different in every state: in most states, insurance companies can refuse to sell you insurance based on your age, gender, or medical history (but not in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, and, with limitations, Washington); in all states they can exclude pre-existing conditions from coverage for a period of time (however, there might still be circumstances in which you would be eligible for coverage). You may also be protected by a law such as HIPAA. Before you buy anything, please visit The Kaiser Family Foundation for information on your rights.
  3. State and federal health care programs. You may be eligible for health care based on your age, income, or pre-existing disability. To see what programs are available in your state, visit The Foundation for Health Coverage Education.

If you are unable to buy insurance and are ineligible for public programs, you have 2 main options:

  1. Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. Those who have been uninsured for 6 months or more and have been denied coverage can receive insurance through the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program. Pre-existing conditions are covered upon enrollment, and premiums are capped at the average cost of private policies in your area. The federal government will operate the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program in those states who choose not to create their own program. In 2014, insurers will no longer be able to deny anyone coverage and this program will end.
  2. Hospitals and clinics. Ask about charity care and sliding scale programs (fees based on your income) at hospitals and clinics. Some hospitals are required to see patients who are uninsured. Contact your local department of public health, social services, or business office of your hospital of choice for more information.

Finally, if you are concerned about either breast or cervical cancer, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides low-income, uninsured women access to screening and diagnostic services to detect breast and cervical cancers. Women who are subsequently diagnosed with cancer may be immediately eligible for limited Medicaid.