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Options for the Uninsured Person with Cancer

A guide to programs that can help

By Lia Tremblay

Updated June 04, 2009

(LifeWire) - Options for the Uninsured Person with Cancer

For the millions of uninsured people in the United States, a cancer diagnosis is especially hard to hear. Treatment can be lengthy and expensive, and you may wonder how you'll foot the bill. There may be options, though, to help ease the burden.

Talk to Your Doctor

Discuss your situation with your oncologist, who may offer payment plans for uninsured patients. Try asking for a referral to a hospital-based cancer treatment center; as part of their mission, many hospitals treat patients without regard to their ability to pay.

A social worker at your hospital or treatment center can recommend helpful resources, local and national. Here are some ideas to get started:

Check Out Government-Sponsored Plans

Medicaid is jointly funded by federal and state governments, so coverage varies from state to state. To learn more about the coverage offered where you live, visit Govbenefits.gov.

Medicare is a federally funded program for citizens ages 65 or older or citizens of any age with certain disabling conditions. Its services include coverage for hospitalization, doctor visits and prescription drugs. To determine your eligibility, visit Medicare.gov.

The Veterans Administration provides medical care to men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces. They need not be combat veterans, and the treatment isn't limited to illness or injury sustained during service. If you served in the armed forces and were not dishonorably discharged, visit the Veterans Administration online.

Get Help From Nonprofits

CancerCare is a national nonprofit dedicated to serving cancer patients and their families. It can provide financial and other assistance at no charge. To learn more and fill out an application, visit the CancerCare Assist website.

The Patient Advocate Foundation offers education and referrals to help patients with financial issues. To request their help, fill out a questionnaire at the Patient Advocate Foundation website. Depending on your diagnosis and treatment, you may also find financial help through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society or the National Marrow Donor Program.

Other Options

Don't forget to check for nonprofit organizations in your area. Your hospital or treatment center may have a foundation that assists patients with medical bills and other expenses incurred during treatment. Your local health department may also have a list of nonprofit organizations near you that help people in your situation.

Many pharmaceutical companies sponsor programs to provide prescription medications for patients who can't afford them. NeedyMeds provides information on such programs.

What About Cancer Screening?

Because early detection is so important, many organizations sponsor cancer screening, including free screening. And some of the programs above will also cover screening of family members. In addition, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides medical screening for breast and cervical cancers to women in underserved populations.

For those diagnosed through this program, a federal law has extended Medicaid coverage (in most states) to include treatment. To find out if you're eligible — and to locate a program near you — visit the website.

And don't forget to think locally: Many hospitals host health fairs with free public screenings. Call your local hospital, and ask for the marketing or public relations department to find out if they're planning such an event.


"Financial Assistance and Other Resources for People With Cancer." cancer.gov. 28 Feb. 2008. National Cancer Institute . 19 Aug. 2008 <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/support/financial-assistance>.

"Medical Insurance and Financial Assistance for the Cancer Patient." cancer.org. 7 Aug. 2008. American Cancer Society. 19 Aug. 2008 <http://www.cancer.org/docroot/MIT/content MIT_3_2X_Medical_Insurance_and_Financial_Assistance_for_the_Cancer_Patient.asp?#Options_for_the_uninsured>.

"National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program." cdc.gov. 30 Jun. 2008. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 19 Aug. 2008 <http://www.cdc.gov/CANCER/nbccedp>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Lia Tremblay is a freelance writer and editor specializing in consumer health care topics. She lives and works in Virginia.

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