Facing a cancer diagnosis without health insurance can be stressful. Feeling uncertain and anxious is very common, but this should not keep you from getting help. There are ways to get health insurance or find the resources you need.

Five Ways to Get Health Insurance

1. Jobs or union. If you or your spouse has a job that offers health insurance, ask if you can get it or buy into it. If you had insurance but lost your job within the last 60 days, ask if you are eligible for COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act). This is a law that lets you keep your insurance for 18 months, sometimes longer. You pay the full cost.

2. Your college or university. If you are a full-time or part-time student, check with your school to see if they offer insurance coverage.

3. Medicaid. Medicaid is a state-administered health insurance program that provides free or low-cost plans to millions of Americans. In the states that have “expanded” Medicaid, it covers all children and adults who are below 138% of the Federal Poverty Level. In the other states, it only covers low-income families with children, pregnant women, the blind or disabled people. To see if your state has expanded Medicaid, and to apply, visit www.healthcare.gov.

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 www.medicare.gov for more information.

5. Purchase it on your own. You can buy insurance from an insurance company or through your state’s Marketplace/Exchange. If you buy it from an insurance company, you will not be eligible for discounts based on your income. Your state’s Marketplace/Exchange will consider your income and you may receive aid. This may lower the cost of your plan, deductibles or co-payments. To find your state’s Marketplace, go to www.healthcare.gov. Please note: whether from an insurance company or through the Marketplace, you can only buy it during Open Enrollment.

Open Enrollment occurs once a year, usually between November and January. There are a few other times when you can buy insurance: if you lose your job-based plan mid-year, get married, have a baby, move to another county or state or become eligible for Medicaid. For more information on special times when you can get insurance, visit www.healthcare.gov.

An Oncology Social Worker Can Help

Remember, you do not have to do this alone! Oncology social workers understand issues related to cancer. Call 800-813-HOPE (4673) and speak with a CancerCare professional oncology social worker. They can help you explore your insurance options and find the best resources for you.

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-payment as well. To find your state’s Marketplace, go to www.healthcare.gov. 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 www.healthcare.gov.

An Oncology Social Worker Can Help

Remember, you do not have to walk this path alone. Oncology social workers understand the complex issues that can arise with cancer. Call 800-813-HOPE (4673) and speak with a CancerCare professional oncology social worker who can help you explore your insurance options and find appropriate resources.

Edited by Sarah Kelly, LCSW

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This fact sheet is supported by Bristol Myers Squibb.

Last updated April 16, 2021

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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