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How to Pay for Cancer Care

woman counting money
If you or someone you care about have questions or are worried about how to pay for cancer care, don’t be shy. Talking to the doctor and asking for assistance can help ease anxiety, and lighten the load of financial stress.

Talking about money can be a challenge for most of us even during the best of times. When there is a diagnosis of cancer (and cancer is a costly illness), worrying about money and how to manage the cost of cancer care can take a toll on your emotions, family, health and time.

A study done with nearly 300 patients treated at Duke Health clinics in North Carolina revealed that although most people want to ask their doctor about costs associated with treatment, most don’t feel comfortable bringing it up. Many patients are afraid that talking about money may change the quality of their care. Others feel unsure what to ask, and/or embarrassed to reveal that there is financial need.

Here are some tips for facing the money issue so you can get the answers you need:

Start a Conversation About Finances:

Knowing what questions to ask the doctor is important; here are several examples to help you get started:

  • "I'm worried about all of the costs related to my cancer care. If I can't afford this treatment, are there other treatments that are less expensive?"
  • "Do you have a financial counselor and/or insurance person in your office that can give me an idea of the total cost of my cancer treatment?"
  • "Can you refer me to a social worker who can help me find resources and support services?"

Make a Financial Plan

Knowing as much as you can before you start cancer treatment will help you know what to expect. This can help you deal with costs as they happen.

  • Estimate expenses: figure out costs for medications, transportation and other things like special needs (wig, specific foods, etc.)
  • Estimate your income, and then use a budget worksheet to help plan your monthly expenses.
  • If you have health insurance, learn all you can about your policy by contacting the insurance company directly. Find out what your plan covers, and if your policy has any limits, restrictions, or co-pays.

Find Resources:

Dealing with a new diagnosis of cancer is difficult. Although paying for cancer care is not usually the first thing that comes to mind, some people must work out money issues before they can even start treatment. Luckily, the University of Michigan has resources to help you with money matters.

Many people do not have full insurance coverage and some have no coverage at all. When this is the case here at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, there are two main options:

  • Deferred payment plans with Michigan Medicine:
    Michigan Medicine Financial Counseling Service is available to assist with making payment arrangements or establishing financial support. If you are a Michigan Medicine patient, or even if you’re not, and you have questions about the options, please call our Patient Financial Counselors at: 877-326-9155 or email them at [email protected]
  • Other sources of financial assistance, depending on your ability to meet eligibility requirements:
    Michigan Medicine’s policy supports medically necessary health care for all people, regardless of their ability to pay. MSupport is our financial support program that may help you if you are uninsured, have limited or exhausted benefits. There are guidelines to qualify for MSupport. For assistance, call 855-853-5380 or email [email protected]

In addition, the federal Affordable Care Act brings many new options for health insurance coverage for individuals, families and small businesses. These include:

  • Medicaid coverage for more Michigan residents under the Healthy Michigan Act
  • Individual & family plans available for purchase on a federal Marketplace – and subsidies & tax credits that can lower the cost of buying these plans
  • An online Small Business Health Options Program Marketplace for small businesses to buy coverage for their employees

You can get enrollment help for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act at U-M. There is staff trained through Patient Financial Counseling Services who have received training to become Certified Application Counselors. You do not have to be a U-M patient to get help from these counselors – they serve the community!

Besides medical bills associated with cancer, many patients need to find help with medication costs and transportation. For these practical matters, the Rogel Cancer Center’s Patient Assistance Center (PAC) offers help to cancer patients.

Another resource is the Oncology Social Work Staff: these social workers can help cancer patients find access to financial counseling and/or assistance with out-of-pocket expenses related to cancer treatment.

If you don't feel you have the energy to deal with cancer and money, think about getting a friend or family member to help you. It may be useful to have another person making calls or keeping track of financial issues.

Continue learning about balancing financial issues and cancer treatment:

If you prefer, feel free to call the Cancer AnswerLine with your questions at 800-865-1125.

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