Being diagnosed with cancer and not having health insurance can bring many challenges that are stressful and emotionally difficult. Feelings such as uncertainty and anxiety are very common, but these should not keep you from getting treatment. There are ways to get health insurance or find the resources you need.

Five Ways to Get Health Insurance

1. Your, or your spouse’s, employer or union. If you or your spouse has a job that 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.

2. Your school. If you are currently a full-time or part-time student, check with your college or university to see if you can get coverage through them.

3. Medicaid. Medicaid is a state administered health insurance program that provides free or low-cost coverage to millions of Americans. In the 30 states that have chosen to “expand” Medicaid, it covers all children and adults below 138% of the Federal Poverty Level, which for one person in 2016 is approximately $16,240. In the remaining 20 states, it only covers low-income families with children, pregnant women, the blind, and the disabled. To see if your state has expanded Medicaid, and to apply, visit

4. Medicare. If you are 65 or over, or have been deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration for two years, you may be eligible for Medicare. Contact for more information.

5. Purchase it on your own. You can buy insurance either directly through an insurance company, or through your state’s Marketplace/Exchange. If you buy it directly through an insurance company, you will not be eligible for discounts based on your income. If you buy it through your state’s Marketplace/Exchange, your income will be taken into account, and you may receive an immediate subsidy, which will lower the cost of your premiums, and possibly your deductibles and co-pays as well. To find your state’s Marketplace, go to Please note: whether you buy it directly from an insurance company or through the Marketplace, you can only buy insurance during Open Enrollment. Open Enrollment occurs once a year, generally between November and January. There are a few exceptions to this rule—if you lose your job-based coverage mid-year, get married, have a baby, move to another county or state, or become eligible for Medicaid, you are eligible for a special enrollment period. For more information on special enrollment periods, visit visit

Additional Resources

Contact local hospitals to see what types of free care or charity care programs they offer. Speak with a financial counselor or social worker to explain your situation. Federal law requires that non-profit hospitals provide some amount of charity care in exchange for tax-exempt status.

The Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF) provides education, legal counseling, and referrals to cancer patients and survivors concerning managed care, insurance, financial issues, job discrimination, and debt management. Visit or call 866-512-3861 for more information.

Contact local community or religious organizations that may be able to provide guidance and resources.

Edited by Sarah Kelly, LCSW

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This activity is supported by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Takeda Oncology.

Last updated June 02, 2019

The information presented in this publication is provided for your general information only. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultations with qualified health professionals who are aware of your specific situation. We encourage you to take information and questions back to your individual health care provider as a way of creating a dialogue and partnership about your cancer and your treatment.

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