Learn more about how oncology social workers can help you cope with a cancer diagnosis.
Connect Education Workshops
Listen in by telephone or online as leading experts in oncology provide up-to-date information about cancer-related issues in one-hour workshops. Podcasts are also available.
For Any Cancer Diagnosis
Read or order our free Connect booklets and fact sheets offering easy-to-read information about the latest cancer treatments, managing side effects and coping with cancer.
For Any Cancer Diagnosis
- A Helping Hand: The Resource Guide for People With Cancer, Financial Edition
- Coping with Cancer When You’re Uninsured
- Counseling to Better Cope With a Cancer Diagnosis
- Insurance Glossary: Terms to Know
- Legal Assistance: Finding Resources and Support
- Managing the Cost of Cancer
- Patients’ Bill of Rights and HIPAA
- Understanding Medicare
- Understanding the Affordable Care Act
- Understanding Your Insurance Coverage
Limited assistance from CancerCare is available to help with cancer-related costs.
Every month, featured experts answer your questions about coping with cancer including specific answers to questions asked by caregivers.
For Any Cancer Diagnosis
My dad has terminal cancer and he is currently at home. He has no insurance, but Medicaid is pending. We're trying to get hospice or some support. What can I do?A.
It must be a very difficult time for your family and you are to be commended in seeking out resources and support services that are available to assist your family.
Hospice is paid for through the Medicare or Medicaid Hospice Benefit and by most private insurers. If a person does not have coverage through Medicare, Medicaid, or a private insurance company, hospice will work with the family to make sure needed services are provided. In order to receive hospice services, your father’s doctor will need to make a referral to a local hospice provider. You may also contact a local hospice to find out what steps you should take.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) offers information and resources about end-of-life and hospice through its Caring Connections website. The Caregiver Resource Directory also can provide you with extensive information. We’ve created a fact sheet, Caregiving at the End of Life, that provides guidance as you care for your father.
It’s important that you continue to follow-up with his Medicaid application, as benefits will be retroactive to the date when he applied and can be used to pay any medical bills that may be incurred during the application period. CancerCare’s fact sheets, Getting to Know Your Entitlements and Sources of Financial Assistance, may also be helpful in finding resources.
If you continue to have difficulties finding hospice services for your father, please call us at 1-800-813-4673 (HOPE) to speak with an oncology social worker.
How do I figure out which Medicare plan is right for me? I don't know if I should get a Medicare Advantage plan or a Medigap plan, or if I should just keep my original Medicare and do neither.A.
When you become eligible for Medicare you receive Part A, which covers certain hospitalization costs. If you want coverage for outpatient services, you should choose Part B as well. Even with Medicare A and B there are still “gaps” in coverage: for example, there is a 20% co-insurance fee for Part B services, and neither A nor B offer drug coverage. Most people choose to supplement their coverage with a retiree plan if their former employer offers it, or a “Medigap” plan, which plugs most of the holes in coverage (except medications). The rest, roughly 18%, choose a Medicare private health plan, called a Medicare Advantage Plan. These plans must offer at least the same benefits as original Medicare but have different rules, costs and coverage restrictions.
Medicare Advantage plans can be useful for those looking for all-in-one medical and drug coverage. However, Medicare Advantage HMOs restrict which doctors and hospitals you can use. An article in Kiplingers magazine sums up the differences well: “Medicare Advantage plans may charge lower premiums than you’d pay for Medicare plus a Medigap policy and Part D prescription-drug coverage. But you could end up paying higher out-of-pocket costs throughout the year. Some Medicare Advantage plans charge higher co-payments for big-ticket items such as hospitalization, or for critical services such as chemotherapy. Or they might not pay for the first 20 days in a skilled-nursing facility (which traditional Medicare covers). In addition, a plan may provide limited coverage if you travel out of state.”
Please note: A study of cancer patients by an affiliate of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute suggests that members of Medicare Advantage HMO plans are opting out of clinical trials because these policies generally require that the patient pay 20% of the costs associated with a trial. In contrast, Medigap plans generally cover those costs.
I have insurance, but I still have bills that are stressing me out. I thought I'd be covered, but I don't know how I'm going to pay the part I'm being told I owe.A.
If you are insured and struggling with outstanding medical bills, consider the following options:
- Read your insurance policy and understand the terms of your contract. If you have questions, ask your insurance company, insurance broker, or the human resources staff at your employer to explain it to you. Your insurer may have denied a claim even though you are entitled to coverage. HealthCare.gov has an excellent guide on how to dispute claims with your insurer.
- Double check all bills and EOBs (explanation of benefits). You’d be surprised how often billing mistakes are made. Look for incorrect dates of service (you shouldn’t be billed for the room on the day you were discharged) and duplicate fees for tests and procedures.
- Ask the hospital or doctor to consider the insurance payment as “payment in full.” Many people don’t think to do this, and it is often more successful than expected. Some hospitals have funds to offset medical services that aren’t fully covered by insurance.
- Negotiate the outstanding balance by asking for a discount. According to a Wall Street Journal survey, 70% of adults who talked with a hospital say they were successful in negotiating a lower price for their medical bills; 61% were successful with their doctor. You will likely get a greater discount (sometimes as high as 50%) if you pay the outstanding balance in a lump sum. You can also set up a payment plan.
- The Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association offers good advice on medical debt. Although some of the information is specific to Massachusetts, sections like “deciphering a medical bill” and “negotiating tips” are useful wherever you live. Healthinsuranceinfo.net also has a concise guide on managing medical debt.
- Explore the resources for co-payment and other medical cost assistance.
Remember to reach out for help—medical debt understandably causes emotional stress and it’s important to get as much support as you can. Speaking with a counselor can help you manage some of your stress and come up with a plan so that you feel more in control.
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 5 main ways to get health insurance:
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.
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.
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 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.
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 1 person in 2016 is approx.. $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 www.healthcare.gov.
Medicare. If you are 65 or over, or have been deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration for 2 years, you may be eligible for Medicare. Contact www.medicare.gov for more information.
If you are unable to afford insurance and are ineligible for Medicaid or Medicare, 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.
I am currently on my former employer's group insurance policy, and was able to maintain the benefits through COBRA. The policy is about to end and I have been trying to "find" another insurance carrier. I have been denied by a few agencies. Is there any advice you can provide?A.
Because you were covered by a group insurance policy and have exhausted your COBRA coverage, you are protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA. This law mandates that people in your situation cannot be denied insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions. However, there are some stipulations: 1) you must present a certificate of creditable coverage to the insurer, which shows that you are HIPAA eligible; 2) you cannot be eligible for government-subsidized insurance such as Medicare or Medicaid; 3) you must apply for a HIPAA plan within 63 days of losing your coverage.
The Cancer Legal Resource Center of the Disability Rights Legal Center has compiled a list of private insurance companies that offer HIPAA policies:
In many states, HIPAA-eligible individuals can buy insurance through high-risk pools, which are state-run programs that offer individual health insurance policies to residents who do not have access to group coverage and who have been denied individual coverage. The National Association of State Comprehensive Health Insurance Plans provides links to state high-risk pools.
HIPAA policies can be quite expensive. You may want to check to see if you’re eligible for Medicaid or another government-subsidized plan first. The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, a program instituted through the Affordable Care Act, also offers guaranteed access to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, and rates are generally lower than those offered through high risk pools or HIPAA policies. However, you have to have been uninsured for at least 6 months in order to apply. To review what public and private insurance options are available in your state, visit the Foundation for Health Coverage Education’s website.
I have coverage for my cancer treatment under the Affordable Care Act and am nervous it could be in jeopardy after President Obama leaves office. Can you provide some information and resources that could help me?A.
With a new, very different administration just a few weeks away, many in our community are worried about their insurance coverage and what this change will mean for the health care landscape.
First, the good news: although the president-elect and Republican leaders have signaled that they would like to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as early as January or February of 2017, it is unlikely they will be able to repeal certain key aspects of it, such as the ban on denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. We do not anticipate any changes to the system that will directly affect you in 2017. Republican leaders have indicated a replacement is probably 2-3 years away.
Now, the not-so-good news: many of the changes that have been proposed may have serious consequences for your ability to access affordable, quality health insurance. For example, if the ACA is repealed, insurers would no longer be required to cover the 10 essential health benefits – such as hospitalization, maternity coverage, medications, and mental health services – and could impose annual dollar caps on your benefits. In addition, the ACA currently limits how much you have to pay per year for deductibles, co-insurance and copays, in the form of your “out-of-pocket maximum”. The current maximum for an individual is $7150. In the event of a repeal, there would no limit to the out of pocket costs to consumers. The organization Raising Women’s Voices has created a handy, one-page outline of what is at stake.
At this point, these changes are conjecture, since the new administration has yet to take office. It may be that opposition to these changes will prevent them from happening.
In the meantime, you can contact your elected officials and share your health insurance concerns. To find your elected officials, visit votesmart.org/officials. Social media contact information for current members of Congress can be found on triagecancer.org/congressional-twitter-handles.
For Breast Cancer
I'm looking for help. I do not have insurance and do not think I qualify for any charitable help. I need surgery for breast cancer and chemotherapy. Is there anywhere I can get help?A.
I understand your concern about not having insurance and being diagnosed with breast cancer and needing surgery and chemotherapy. This can be overwhelming and I hope to guide you in the right direction so that you can find assistance.
Listed below are resources for people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and do not have medical insurance to cover the cost of their treatment:
Susan G. Komen (www.komen.org or 877-465-6636, Monday–Friday, 9:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., EST). They can assist you in locating your local affiliate that provides grants to local community-based organizations providing education, screening and treatment programs. Some of these programs may include financial assistance programs to those that are uninsured.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid has information on your state’s Medicaid program eligibility requirements. Medicaid is a free, state insurance plan that covers the cost of medical care to those who qualify. Please visit: www.cms.hhs.gov/home/medicaid.asp.
Many state and corporate prescription assistance programs help patients obtain free or low-cost medications. To learn more about the patient assistance programs (PAPs) that are offered by pharmaceutical companies and states, visit the Partnership for Prescription Assistance at www.pparx.org or call 888-4PPA-NOW (888-477-2669).
The Foundation for Health Coverage Education’s mission is to simplify public and private health insurance eligibility information in order to help more people to access coverage. You can visit their website at www.coverageforall.org.
A social worker at the hospital where you will be receiving treatment often can provide referrals to local sources of financial aid. In addition, it might be helpful to explain your financial situation to the hospital’s business office and your physicians. Professionals involved in caring for you are well aware of the economic burden that cancer imposes on patients and families. They might be able to develop a plan to reduce costs or extend payments over a longer period of time.
Other organizations that may be of assistance to you during this time include:
CancerCareoffers limited assistance for transportation, home care and child care for women who qualify. Limited funds are also available to assist with certain oral, pain, and anti-nausea medications, lymphedema supplies and durable medical equipment.
Patient Advocate Foundation offers a one time grant of $300 for qualified patients to cover expenses for lymphedema care and supplies, durable medical equipment, transportation costs associated with getting to and from treatment, prostheses and wigs or child care and/or elder care necessitated by treatment. Eligible patients include those who have been diagnosed and are in active treatment for breast cancer who fall within 250% or less of the federal poverty limits. For more information, call 855-824-7941.
For additional support, I encourage you to call CancerCare’s Hopeline at 800-813-4673 to speak to an oncology social worker.
For Cervical Cancer
What resources are available for women with cervical cancer who have no medical insurance? I was going to a specialist and my cancer was advancing. I have had no treatment since due to lack of insurance.A.
The many challenges of being diagnosed and not having insurance are stressful and emotionally difficult. Feelings such as anger and anxiety are very common, but these should not keep you from getting treatment. Give yourself credit for seeking help, and for learning about and using available resources.
Being organized can help ease some of your anxiety. Keep a notebook with a list of organizations you contact and write down the name of the person with whom you speak, and what information they provide to you.
- Medicaid is a jointly funded, federal-state health insurance program for people who need financial assistance for medical expenses. A current law exists that allows state Medicaid programs to provide treatment to women diagnosed with cervical cancer.
- 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.
- Contact local community or religious organizations that may be able to provide guidance and resources.
American Cancer Society
Cancer and Careers
Cancer Legal Resource Center
Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc.
Foundation for Health Coverage Education
Kaiser Family Foundation
Medicare Rights Center
Patient Advocate Foundation
The Samfund: Support for Young Adult Cancer Survivors
U.S. Department of Health and Human Service HealthCare.gov