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Know Your Options: Cancer Treatment and the Value of Information

This content was current as of the date it was released. In science and medicine, information is constantly changing and may become out-of-date as new data emerge.

A diagnosis of terminal cancer is a crushing emotional and psychological blow to patients and their loved ones, who quickly find out that cancer is also devastating from a financial standpoint. According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, cancer costs Americans $895 billion every year. And while there have been promising advances in research and treatment, there’s little on the horizon that promises to alleviate the overwhelming financial burden of cancer treatment. As a result, families must research diligently and plan carefully when it comes to covering the costs that come with treatment.

Health insurance

It’s important to become familiar with the terms of your health insurance policy, because though you rely on it heavily, it won’t cover everything and won’t necessarily protect you and your family from incurring significant debt. Most policies should cover the majority of medical expenses, but you’ll need to know what out-of-pocket expenses to expect. And co-pays and deductibles tend to be quite high when it comes to cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, which is usually administered via prescriptive drugs that come at a high price. Make sure you’re well-informed about in-network hospitals and doctors and inquire about the costs involved if you or a loved one require treatment from an out-of-network provider.

Medicare Advantage

Established in 1965, Medicare is a federal program that aims to help people age 65 and older cover the cost of medical expenses and visits to the doctors. While it can take some of the financial burden off older adults, it doesn’t pay for everything. Medicare Advantage plans are an important supplement to Medicare for cancer patients because these plans help cover the cost of prescriptions as well as dental and vision expenses. Just like Medicare, there are requirements and specific enrollment periods associated with Medicare Advantage plans.

If you’re 65 or older, you may automatically be enrolled in Medicare, but Medicare Advantage Plans are elections you make during certain enrollment periods, with the yearly enrollment period running from October 15 to December 7.

For more information about insurance resources, visit the CLL Society webpage here.

Payment options

As a cancer patient, be sure to ask your provider lots of questions about treatments and medications. Always follow up those with questions about payment options. Be sure to find out if there are alternative treatments that are less expensive and whether there are payment assistance programs available to you. Drug manufacturers sometimes offer patient assistance plans for prescription medications, drug discount cards and payment programs based on specific medical conditions.

There are also government programs aimed at helping veterans and military personnel; senior-based stage-level programs; community organizations; and charitable and patient advocacy organizations. Exhaust all of these possibilities, as you might be able to defray a considerable percentage of your out-of-pocket expenses. And don’t be shy about discussing concerns about the costs of treatment with your doctor, who can provide valuable informational resources.

For more information about financial assistance, visit the CLL Society webpage here.

Common expenses

The cost of these items will vary somewhat depending on where you live and the nature of your treatment; for example, if you’ve been diagnosed with leukemia, you can expect to incur costs for doctor’s visits, treatment procedures, radiation treatment, chemotherapy surgery, hospital stays and more. Always find out if you need to get pre-certification from your insurer ahead of time, whether there’s a co-pay (and how much); whether you can go out of network; and whether rehabilitation costs will be involved.

You may also decide to spend money on holistic approaches to treatment, which often begin with what you’re putting into your body. A healthy plant-based diet filled with antioxidants is especially beneficial. Make sure half your plate is plant-based, and the more colorful options you choose, the better.

For more information about financial assistance, visit the CLL Society webpage here.

Take a breath

The diagnosis coupled with worries about cost and coverage is overwhelming at best. It’s a lot to take in, and a lot to navigate. As difficult as it may sound, try not to let the stress of it all fully engulf you. There is a lot of ground to cover, and this is a marathon, not a sprint. So it’s important to find ways to manage your stress through this challenging time. Some of the best techniques to employ are deep breathing, acknowledging thought trains and letting them go, anticipating your triggers and learning to take time for yourself.

Self-care is also crucial right now. Even at the basic level, you need to make sleep, diet and personal time priorities as much as you can. And don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help right now.

Cancer patients and their families must be smart and well-informed health care consumers. It’s difficult to function as normal in the wake of a terminal cancer diagnosis, but understanding your rights and researching your payment options can help defray some of the expenses that typically come with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Kim Thomas, Chief Blogger


Kim Thomas enjoys writing about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Her mission is aligned with that of the US Health Corps, and that is to triumph over chronic disease.