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Understanding the Costs Associated With Cancer

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It's important to take some time up front to understand what you will have to pay out of pocket for your cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you don’t have any health insurance, your first step is to secure some kind of coverage. Ask if there is a patient financial counselor, social worker, and/or nurse navigator at your hospital who can help. This person might be able to help you find a plan that works for you. Such a person also should be able to tell you about any assistance programs or payment plans that are available through your hospital. These may help to defray any costs that are not covered by insurance. Another potential source of advice is a health insurance broker who knows the ins and outs of different plans and can advise you quickly. For more information, see Help for People Without Health Insurance.

Even with health insurance, you can expect to face some out-of-pocket costs. Take some time now to understand what your plan covers and what it will expect you to pay. For example, you’ll want to make sure that the hospital or medical practice(s) where you will go for treatment are part of your insurance plan. Otherwise, you might be surprised by large bills later on. “We give patients the diagnosis codes, the procedure codes, and encourage them strongly to call their insurance company to see if they need any pre-certifications and pre-authorizations and for information about copays and deductibles,” says Annette Hargadon, MSN, RNC-OB, CBCN, nurse navigator/breast care coordinator at Riddle Hospital, Main Line Health, Media, PA.

Health insurance policies aren’t easy to read, but you’ll want to know what you’re getting into and if you might need to get help with covering out-of-pocket costs. Generally, cheaper plans with lower premiums — that’s the monthly amount you pay, or your employer pays, to be a member of the insurance plan — tend to have higher out-of-pocket costs. Learn more about managing your health insurance.

Indirect Costs of Cancer

In addition to out-of-pocket costs for treatment, cancer can lead to other added expenses you might need to plan for:

  • Lost wages: Your income may go down if you find you need to take time off from work and/or your partner does.
  • Transportation: Driving to and from the hospital for treatments involves paying for gas and possibly parking. If you take public transportation, a taxi, or a driving service such as Uber or Lyft, you will have to cover these costs as well. If you are traveling to a cancer center outside your immediate area, you also may need to pay for lodging.
  • Childcare: If you care for children or grandchildren, you may need to pay for childcare while you're at doctors’ appointments or at the hospital for treatments. You also may need help while you're recovering from treatment.
  • Household help: You may need to hire household help for cleaning, cooking, laundry, and other tasks until you’re feeling up to these tasks again.

These are all items to keep in mind as you plan your budget for the coming months.

Expert Quote

“Many people have high-deductible health plans, where they might have to meet as much as $5,000 in costs before insurance kicks in. And even then, insurance might cover only 80% of their costs. So it can add up quickly.”  — Annette Hargadon, MSN, RNC-OB, CBCN, Nurse Navigator/Breast Care Coordinator, Riddle Hospital/Main Line Health, Media, PA

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