When you hear about a friend, family member or colleague who has been diagnosed with cancer, it’s natural to try to put yourself in their place and imagine what they’re going through. But no matter how empathetic you try to be, it’s only once the diagnosis is your own that you truly understand the grief, the fear and the sleepless nights that follow, and the thing that often catches most patients by surprise is the high level of financial stress for cancer patients.
Patients aren’t going to mention it to well-wishers or those in their inner circle. Instead they talk about the things people expect to hear, stories about nausea or fears of their hair falling out, when their next doctors’ appointments are and when they have scheduled surgeries or treatments. But check out any cancer patient community board or support network and you’ll see that what’s really keeping patients up at night is not how their medical condition is progressing, but how they’re going to pay their bills. When a person with cancer isn’t able to continue working, or the cost of their treatments is climbing rapidly, the monetary burden can become overwhelming.
The good news is that despite the financial stress of cancer treatment and all that goes along with it, there are solutions available that can offer real help and peace of mind. If you or someone you love is struggling with this kind of concern, here are five of the top resources for relieving your financial stress:
- The health care facilities themselves. Many patients have found that they are able to get relief from overwhelming bills simply by contact the hospital’s billing department and asking if they are able to get a reduced rate. A surprising number of healthcare facilities have hardship programs available, but they do not publicize them so it will be necessary to make a few phone calls. Be prepared to use the word charity, as for some assistance programs that is the magic word that they listen for. There will be an application process that will require you to detail the hardship that you are facing. Make sure that you fill it out honestly and completely.
- The CancerCare Co-Payment Assistance Foundation is a nonprofit that provides helps with payments for copays for several specific types of cancer, and their list of eligible diagnoses is expanding. They have an income cutoff that is quite generous at 400% of the federal poverty level; they turn down less than ten percent of applicants and provide an average of between $2,500 and $5,000 in grants for cancer bills, freeing up patients’ funds for other expenses.
- Life Beyond Cancer is a nonprofit organization that provides patients with information on a number of resources and services that will help them pay for their living expenses, including utility and heating bills, food, rent, mortgage and car payments, and insurance bills. Additionally, they provide emotional support and counseling.
- Community groups such as churches and support networks set up by family and friends often work behind the scenes, raising money to help pay for the various expenses that face cancer patients. If you are struggling, it is important that you ask for help – you know from when you have been on the outside looking in that the hardest thing about watching somebody with a cancer diagnosis is not knowing what you can do. If you have a utility bill that you can’t pay or need groceries, people will leap to help.
- Life insurance loans are a resource that few people are aware of but which can provide a lifeline to cancer patients struggling with financial stress. These loans offer the opportunity to access the death benefit on the life insurance policy that you’ve been paying into for years, providing you with the opportunity to use the funds however you want, with no limitations. Patients who have been diagnosed with an advanced-stage illness are able to take out a loan against their policy and let the servicing company assume the payments. The money you borrow against your benefit is repaid out of the proceeds of your life insurance policy, and what is left still goes to your beneficiaries.
Even families that have excellent health insurance struggle with paying their bills when they are going through cancer treatments, but there is help available. Check out the resources listed above, and ask your treatment provider if they are aware of any other assistance programs.