Financial Lifelines During Cancer Treatment

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People struggling with medical bills can turn to pharmaceutical and nonprofit programs.

What has come to be known as financial toxicity is considered a side effect of cancer treatment in America. Patients can wind up in debt or even bankrupt due to the costs of treatment, hospital stays and follow-up testing, which may continue to add up over a long period.

To make matters worse, doctors often don't broach this subject with their patients.

That's why it's important that patients ask their doctors about the costs of the treatments offered and any cheaper alternatives. If expensive therapy is necessary but difficult to afford, patients do have organizations they can turn to for help.

NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS

By providing either guidance or direct funding, many nonprofit organizations and government agencies help patients navigate the economic pitfalls of cancer care.

A good place to start: the American Cancer Society, which has a website section dedicated to information about financial programs and resources. The organization also suggests ways to afford prescriptions and handle hard-to-pay medical bills. To learn more, call 800-227-2345 or visit cancer.org/treatment/finding-and-paying-for-treatment.html.

The National Cancer Institute maintains an alphabetical list of more than 100 organizations that may be able to offer financial support. Searches can also be done by cancer type or type of assistance needed. For more information, call 800-422-6237 or visit supportorgs.cancer.gov/home.aspx?js=1.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network offers free assistance through its Virtual Reimbursement Resource Room. A patient can sort through information by cancer type or explore reimbursement programs. The entire guide can be downloaded, and the network also offers the Reimbursement Resource App for smartphones and tablets. Learn more at nccn.org/reimbursement_ resource_room/, or call 215-690-0300.

The Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition, a 15-member consortium, makes it easy to quickly search for aid using a series of check boxes and drop-down menus. The site also offers an overview of cancer costs and a tutorial on taking control of finances. Visit cancerfac.org for more information.

NeedyMeds provides information on assistance programs from more than 400 companies and data on more than 4,000 medications. The extensive site, which offers drug discount cards, rebates and coupons, can point a person to local and national financial resources based on diagnosis. For assistance, call 800-503-6897, email info@needymeds. org or visit needymeds.org.

Don’t forget to check out our list of useful resources online at curetoday.com/journey, which includes many organizations that provide such aid.

PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES

Drugmakers can sometimes step in when medication price tags present a challenge. Pharmaceutical companies operate hundreds of programs that provide financial help in the form of free or discounted medication and, together, help a surprisingly large percentage of patients.

Often, these programs aim to help those who are uninsured or underinsured. Most programs also have income eligibility limits, but these may be set quite high, so even patients who are financially well-off may be eligible. Patients can apply through the mail, via fax or online, and sometimes doctors’ offices will help.

Pharmaceutical companies also offer copay assistance programs that discount the price of their drugs and are open to people who have health insurance. Although many copay programs are not available to those on Medicare, it’s worth checking with drugmakers to find out for sure.

Some pharmaceutical companies even offer counselors who guide patients in finding other sources of financial help. Counselors also can assist patients in appealing insurance company decisions to not pay for care.

To find a pharmaceutical program, go to the website of the company that makes your drug and search for patient assistance programs, or call the company. Another option: Visit the website of the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (medicineassistancetool.org), run by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, to access a searchable database of most of these programs.

Visit curetoday.com/journey, for a list of resources.

CONSERVING FUNDS

Making informed decisions about care with both cost and effectiveness in mind can also help patients avoid debt.

Ask yourself and your care team if a treatment is warranted and if there is a similarly effective but more affordable alternative. It’s also important to consider whether options are supported by scientific evidence and expert recommendations. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network issues clinical guidelines that spell out what treatments are called for in different types and stages of cancer (nccn.org/patients/guidelines/cancers.aspx). In addition, tests and procedures that duplicate recent care — and associated costs — might not be necessary.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has a Choosing Wisely campaign to guide patients in making cost/benefit decisions about treatment. A list of treatments and practices that patients and their doctors should question or avoid can be found here: choosingwisely.org/societies/american-society-of-clinical-oncology.