Tuesday's Wall Street Journal had an unsettling article about cancer patients who are financially overwhelmed by the costs associated with their treatment.
Surprisingly, the vast majority of cancer patients under age 65 (70%) do indeed have private health insurance coverage. However, policies with lifetime caps on benefit payouts and sizable out-of-pocket costs can wreak financial devastation on a cancer patient and his/her family. Adding to this is the fact that cancer patients' income is reduced, or eliminated, during their time away from work; this sets up a scenario for financial ruin.
This seems terribly unfair, as dealing with your diagnosis and getting through treatment is challenging enough. And, the added emotional stress of being financially overwhelmed is certainly counterproductive to getting well.
Patients who are insured usually believe that they would not qualify for any type of financial assistance with their treatment costs. So, they are forced to dip into their savings, if they have any, in order to pay their expenses not covered by insurance. Otherwise, difficult choices have to be made, such as between the basic necessities of life and the costs of their daily cancer medications.
When we hear the words "cancer support", naturally we think of peer groups, counseling, and other resources dedicated to helping the patient deal emotionally with diagnosis and the treatment path. Now, programs are being developed to support patients as they face overwhelming financial challenges while simultaneously having to confront a life-threatening illness.
Although this is a positive sign, many patients are still totally unaware of these financial assistance resources; as they are not in the usual "care package" of support contacts normally shared with cancer patients. This has to change!
I was extremely fortunate that I was able to work from home during my surgeries and treatment. I didn't have to be on medical disability, so my normal income wasn't affected. However, if my cancer recurs, more extensive treatment would be needed. Then, I could find myself in a similar financial dilemma, even though I have excellent medical insurance.
Below are the names and website addresses of the agencies listed in the WSJ article: I'm hoping that we will never need them, but I also know that cancer plays no favorites. Having knowledge about our treatment options, and about how to deal with potential financial issues is empowering.
Patient Access Network | panfoundation.org
CancerCare | cancercare.org
Patient Advocate Foundation | patientadvocate.org
Partnership for Prescription Assistance | pparx.org
Cancer Support Community | cancersupportcommunity.org