Handling Insurance Matters Related to Cancer

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Strategies can help patients get the most out of their health care coverage.

It is important to have and keep good medical insurance. Many patients have private insurance through employee group plans or individual plans. There are several types of health insurance plans, so it’s essential for patients to become familiar with their individual insurance plans and their provisions to know what they will have to pay for themselves.

This information can be found in the Summary of Benefits and Coverage that can be obtained from the patient’s insurance administrator at work or from the company that sold the individual policy. As of 2014, individual policies can be purchased in each state’s insurance marketplace without regard to pre-existing conditions.

Another option to consider is supplemental insurance, which pays a fixed amount for each day a person is hospitalized. There is usually a limit on the total number of hospital inpatient days that are covered in a calendar year. Supplemental policies are often used to pay for medical expenses not covered by the insurance plan or other expenses that might come up during an illness, but are really only helpful if patients already have health insurance coverage to cover the bulk of their health care costs. The money received from this type of policy can be used however a policy holder wishes. It is often used for the other expenses that families face when one member is ill.


Keeping accurate records of medical bills, insurance claims and payments will help families manage their resources and reduce stress. Record-keeping is also important for those who wish to take advantage of the deductions available in filing itemized tax returns. The Internal Revenue Service ( can provide information and free publications regarding tax exemptions for cancer treatment expenses.


  • Medical bills from all health care providers.
  • Claims filed.
  • Reimbursements and explanations of benefits.
  • Dates, names and outcomes of contacts made with insurers and others.
  • Non-reimbursed or outstanding medical costs and copayments.
  • Meals, lodging and travel expenses, including gas.
  • Cellphone or telephone expenses related to medical or other types of care, including psychosocial.
  • Admissions, clinic visits, lab work, diagnostic tests, procedures and treatments.
  • Drugs given and prescriptions filled.


  • Decide who will be the record-keeper or how the task will be shared.
  • Seek the help of a relative or friend. This could be especially important for people who live alone.
  • Set up a file system in a file cabinet, drawer, box or three-ring binder.
  • Check all bills and explanations of benefits for accuracy.
  • Review bills promptly after receiving them.
  • Save and file all bills, payment receipts, records of checks and proof of online payments.
  • Keep a daily log of events and expenses; a calendar with space for writing is useful.
  • Maintain a list of phone numbers for cancer care team members and other contacts.

Handling a Claim Denial or Refusal to Cover a Prescribed Service

It is not unusual for particular claims to be denied or for insurers to say they will not cover a test, procedure or service ordered by a patient’s doctor. If this occurs, it is important to have a working relationship with a case manager who can discuss the situation.

First, patients should ask their doctors to write a letter explaining or justifying what has been done or requested. Then, patients should resubmit the claim with a copy of the denial letter and the doctor’s explanation. Sometimes the test or service will need to be “coded” differently.

If challenging the denial in this way is not successful, then patients might need to:

  • Postpone payment until the matter is resolved.
  • Resubmit the claim and request a review.
  • Ask to speak with a supervisor who has the authority to reverse a decision.
  • Seek help from the consumer services division of the state insurance department or commission.
  • Consider taking legal action.

Patients should make sure they keep originals of correspondence. The cancer care team or doctor’s office staff might help make copies if needed. Also, patients should keep a record of dates, names and conversations they have about the denial.

For Those Who Are Uninsured

Patients who are uninsured could qualify for financial help to buy a health plan sold on their state’s health insurance marketplace. If their income is below a certain level, they might be eligible for coverage through Medicaid (eligibility varies by state). Some states have chosen to broaden access to Medicaid coverage under the health care law, while others have not. Patients can search for plans at from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 each year, or outside that window if they have experienced a major life event, such as job loss.

Those who are uninsured can also speak with hospital social workers, who may be able to help find funding for treatment.