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How to Pay For Breast Cancer Treatments During COVID-19
When my aunt received her breast cancer diagnosis, it was a long chain of unsavory memories that would come to haunt us. I also remember the bills – there were so many, and although her insurance was good, it still made for an extra headache at an already trying time.
That isn’t the case for thousands of breast cancer victims and survivors all across the country. Shoddy insurance coverage and expensive premiums can leave patients on the hook for the treatments and medications they need to combat breast cancer, and out-of-pocket costs are simply too much to bear.
My aunt is one of the 3.5 million women in the U.S. who have had their lives devastated by breast cancer. About one in eight women will have invasive breast cancer in their lifetime, with well over 300,000 new cases projected for 2020 alone. This same year, more than 42,000 women are expected to die from breast cancer. Moreover, an increase in U.K. cancer deaths is being traced back to Covid-19 related delays in diagnosis.
Thankfully, there is help out there. There are many organizations and associations that provide free or discounted healthcare and resources to those fighting breast cancer.
The cost of breast cancer
Breast cancer is considered as the most expensive diagnosis among Americans. “In 2018, the estimated cost of breast cancer treatments exceeded $19 million,” says Ken Eulo, Founding Partner of Orlando, Florida’s Smith & Eulo Law Firm. In a 2019 study, 189 patients with advanced breast cancer detailed financial hardship once a diagnosis had been confirmed. This problem related to treatment costs is known as “financial toxicity” among medical experts.
“It’s a growing concern, and with the continued rise in treatment costs, it can no longer be ignored,” warns Dr. Daniel Vorobiof, Medical Director of Belong.Life and the founder and former medical director of the Sandton Oncology Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Vorobiof, who also conducted the breast cancer study, noted that “that 87% of all ABC patients experienced FT during their disease, nearly half of the patients (47%) experienced work difficulties (stopped working, reduced work hours, etc.) and 93% had associated financial burdens because of this.”
There are different ways that patients are approaching their mounting medical bills. Insurance is the go-to option for many, and most care facilities offer their own financing programs, but these can come with very high interest rates, especially if you have poor credit. Cancer will give your credit score a beating, too, but there are still some great options out there for personal loans for bad credit.
No matter what you choose, you want to be sure that you have enough coverage or financing to meet the steep costs of breast cancer treatment. The National Cancer Institute published a March 2020 Cancer Trends Progress Report that shows the following total expenses:
- Last year of life costs: $4,530.80
- Continuing care: $8,471.60
- Initial care: $6,697.50
These are some of the common expenses that breast cancer patients face during treatment.
Average common costs of breast cancer care
|Average 0- to 12-month allowed cost, by service per diagnosed patient||Average 13- to 24-month allowed cost, by service per diagnosed patient covered through 12 months after diagnosis|
Inpatient breast cancer surgery
Outpatient breast cancer surgery
All costs on the day of chemotherapy
Average per-patient allowed costs (2009-2012)
0-6 months post-diagnosis
0-12 months post-diagnosis
0-18 months post-diagnosis
0-24 months post-diagnosis
Paying for treatment
How much you pay for cancer treatment depends on whether you have health insurance and how you choose to pay for your treatment. For example, The Affordable Care Act mandates that Medicare and new private health insurance providers fully cover screening mammograms without out-of-pocket expense for patients. Most people can’t afford to pay for their care out-of-pocket, so here are several funding options that you can use instead.
Medicare is a form of health insurance offered by the government for adults 65 years of age and older. In addition to free and discounted medical services, you can benefit from lower drug costs. You can find resources online or call 1-800-MEDICARE if you prefer to speak with a representative. There is also the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, which will help you find state-specific providers to help in your area. In addition to provider information, you can also find more details about referrals and counseling for Medicare patients and their caregivers.
Medicaid is also insurance from the government, but while Medicare is age-based, this is designed to help those on a limited income. However, it is a state-run program, so it’s important that you find your state’s exact coverage options, requirements and limitations, as they can vary. More help is available online, or you can call the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services at 1-877-267-2323 for more details about what Medicaid can do for you.
Treatment facility funding
While many treatment centers accept different kinds of insurance, some also offer their own financing programs. This gives you a chance to get the treatment you need today with a little more time to pay whatever is not covered by your health insurance coverage. These facilities can also offer funding for those who do not have health insurance, but interest rates can be very high.
A personal loan can be a good choice if you need funds right away, and you’ve exhausted all other options. You may be able to get better financing by taking out a personal loan with your choice of lender. The interest rates could be lower than those from a medical facility, and lenders could offer more time to repay.
Susan G. Komen
“ To ensure Komen Chicago doesn’t have any disruption in breast health service funding, the organization has launched a COVID-19 BreastHealth Fund to continue funding support programs in the Chicagoland area,” says Chelsea Rosenberg of Mekky Media Relations, who works closely with Susan G. Komen Chicago. The program features free or reduced breast health services, including mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, genetic counseling and genetic screenings. There are also financial and psychosocial assistance programs to help reduce barriers and increase survival rates.
Other resources and directories
Some exclusive parties can benefit from more specialized help. If you are a current or former member of the military or a family member, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will have additional resources that you can access. Social Security also provides additional resources.
Additionally, you may be able to benefit from these organizations.
- Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition (CFAC) – a group of national organizations that provide financial resources and help to patients with a searchable database.
- CancerCare (800-813-4673) – limited financial assistance for co-pays, transportation, home care, and child care with a database of organizations providing financial or practical help.
- Cancer Finances – an online-tool to help you navigate finances before, during and after cancer.
- Family Reach (973-394-1411) – a national organization dedicated to eradicating Cancer-Related Financial Toxicity (CRFT).
- HealthWellFoundation (800-675-8416) – an independent non-profit to help chronic patients afford their medications.
- Triage Cancer is a national nonprofit providing cancer survivorship resources.
Where to find help
No matter where you live, you are not alone. Many organizations, both national and local, can help provide the kind of resources you need, from financing and home care to rehabilitation and overall support:
- National Mammography Program
- National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP)
- National Cancer Institute
- The American Cancer Society
- Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program (BCCTP)
These are some of the best places to find help for breast cancer and engage with communities going through a similar process.
The Pink Fund
Based out of Michigan, The Pink Fund is a non-profit that provides 90 days worth of non-medical cost-of-living expenses to breast cancer patients currently in active treatment. If you can show loss of income due to a leave of absence, reduced hours or a similar situation, you could be eligible to receive this additional funding. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, there are also new COVID-related resources for both patients and survivors.
Breast Cancer Charities of America’s Help Now Fund
The Breast Cancer Charities of America’s Help Now Quarterly Grant is another resource that provides financial support to those undergoing active treatment. The idea is that by helping to eliminate the financial burden, patients can focus on their recovery and survivorship while still being able to pay their bills. Although the program has paused new applications, patients are encouraged to check back regularly.
Family Reach is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides financial support for patients. Their network includes more than 400 hospitals and cancer centers, so they have the experience and resources necessary to help you navigate the financial labyrinth of cancer. It’s an application-based program, and there is also a new COVID fund where donors can provide one month of secure housing, groceries for cancer-stricken families, utility and transportation support and treatment center costs.
Cancer Support Community
Cancer Support Community is an organization that provides emergency financial grants to cancer patients, including those who have breast cancer. “Cancer creates a financial strain on anyone, not just those without healthcare,” says Peter Dudley, Chief Development Officer at Cancer Support Community San Francisco Bay Area and a member of the CHC: Creating Healthier Communities Board of Directors.
“These small grants help with life’s essentials because if you are struggling to pay for rent, nutritious food, or transportation to your appointments, there’s no way you can take care of your higher-order needs while fighting cancer,” adds Dudley.
There are also programs, such as the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, that offer mammography services for low-income, uninsured, and underserved women. For help locating a free or discounted screening mammogram in your area, contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.
Tips for lowering costs
Financial toxicity is a major concern, says Dr. Vorobiof, because it “highlights just how important patient-physician communication is in preserving the quality of cancer care. Physicians should prioritize the discussion of costs early in a patient’s treatment journey, and patients should feel free to ask their physician any financial-related question they may have.” That being said, there are some things you can do to help lower your overall costs.
Check for billing errors
Stay organized by collecting all of your medical documents and keeping them in one place. Be sure to track your bills and statements by doing a thorough review of each invoice that comes in. You may find some charges that shouldn’t be there. Be sure to dispute charges that aren’t covered by your insurance.
Ask your doctor about generic medications or samples
Prescription medication is one of the most expensive bills that you will continually face. Some patients will skip or adjust their doses just to make a medication last longer, and while that may be tempting, it’s not necessary. Talk to your doctor to see what kinds of generic brands are available for your medication and inquire about the cheapest forms of medicine, whether it may be a pill, an injection or otherwise. Many doctors also have samples on-hand, so you can try your prescription before you commit with a financial investment.
Look into medicine assistance programs
There are also discount programs, such as NeedyMeds, specifically designed to help with cancer medication costs. For example, the HealthWell Foundation helps those with chronic diseases obtain the medication they need when their health insurance fails to provide support. There have also been expanded resources available since the on-set of COVID, which has caused even more disruption to the life of the average breast cancer patient.
Ask your facility about in-house support.
Your facility may also provide support on-site. “Most hospitals and cancer treatment centers have some sort of financial assistance framework in place,” says Andrew Jazic, award-winning attorney and Founding Partner of Jezic Firm in Wheaton, Maryland.
“There will usually be financial counseling professionals on hand to help with navigating insurance paperwork, establishing an estimate of the cost of treatment, working out a payment plan, and locating other resources like financial assistance programs.” However, he warns, coronavirus has taken its toll here, too. “COVID-19 has limited access to these types of counseling professionals, so there may be a longer than usual way to take advantage of these services,” he explains.
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