An average of 1.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States alone. Cancer is a widespread and unfair disease that touches many people and can take a terrible toll on a patient’s health, relationships, emotions, and finances.
The cost of cancer treatments can reach $150,000 or more, according to AARP, in part due to the high cost of prescriptions. In fact, 11 of the 12 cancer drugs that the Food and Drug Administration approved in 2012 were priced at more than $100,000 per year, according to a recent AARP article, which puts the cost of medications well out of the range of the average person.
Luckily, there are options available to help offset the cost of cancer treatments. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with cancer, one of the most important things you can do is start researching costs and potential solutions sooner rather than later. Find the information you need to make a game plan. It will help ease some of the financial stress that goes along with a cancer diagnosis.
We want you to be well-equipped to fight back against cancer, which is why we’ve put together this guide on what to expect in terms of treatments and how to afford them. Use this information or share it with your loved ones to get the conversation going.
You can never be completely prepared for cancer – it impacts us all differently, but by referring to this guide, you can help diminish much of the financial anxiety and stress that goes hand in hand with fighting cancer.
Understanding Cancer Treatment
There’s a lot involved when it comes to treating cancer. It can all be a little overwhelming, especially if you don’t come from a medical background.
Here is a list of possible treatments and medical expenses:
- Lab tests: Blood, urine, or even a biopsy of a suspicious area.
- Healthcare provider visits: Consultations with medical experts, for treatment, or determining a diagnosis.
- Procedures for diagnosis or treatment: Room and equipment charges used to render treatment or determine a diagnosis.
- Imaging tests: X-rays, MRIs, CT scans. An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) uses powerful magnets and radio waves to help find cancer. A CT (computed tomography) scan can help doctors locate tumors. These can all come with separate bills for equipment fees and medication used in the process.
- Radiation therapy: Can entail external radiation treatment and/or implants necessary for internal radiation. External radiation is one of the more common forms involving a machine that aims high-energy rays into the tumor. Internal radiation involves concentrating radiation within an area by using an implant sometimes referred to as a seed, capsule, or even balloon placed near the tumor.
- Drug costs: Can include inpatient and outpatient drugs including those used in chemotherapy treatments as well as drugs to offset side effects of chemo, radiation, etc. This may also entail drugs necessary for procedures as well as hormone therapy. In cases involving certain types of breast cancer, hormones in the blood can be affected requiring hormone therapy. Prescription and non-prescription drugs should also be factored in.
- Hospital stays: Includes the cost of doctor and nurse visits as well as specialist consultation. These can all contribute to the cost of cancer treatment.
- Surgery: Operating room and equipment fees, medications, anesthesiologist, pathologist, surgeon – these are all potential cost factors that can come into play, as well.
- Home care: Could include the cost of additional equipment as well as regular home visits from a medical professional. This can vary based on the severity of your cancer diagnosis and your reaction to the treatment.
- Follow-up care: May include blood tests, urinalysis, and any other procedure designed to detect traces of cancer after you have completed treatment.
Having a clear understanding of what cancer treatment might entail can help you hit the ground running. Just remember that cancer is unique to the patient and not all of these costs will apply.
Paying for Cancer Treatment
The collective cost of all those cancer treatments can vary. Generally, the number is high, but most hospitals don’t expect you to be walking around carrying that amount on hand.
If you have health insurance, you’ll want to make sure your provider pays or reimburses the bulk of cancer-related expenses. Knowing the specific terms of your policy and which doctors, hospitals, and clinics are in-network (recognized by your insurance provider) is crucial.
Be sure to keep careful records of everything pertaining to your treatment. No matter how insignificant a document may seem, make sure you have a copy and note the doctor’s signature as well as the date. This can come in handy in the event that your claims are denied and you want to appeal.
Your doctor or the clinic you’re interested in will have someone responsible for answering any health insurance concerns. Contact this individual to learn more about billing and if you require further assistance with your claims.
FSAs and HSAs
An HSA (Health Savings Account) is a special account people can use to save up for medical expenses. There are a lot of employers that provide these to employees enrolled in private health insurance plans.
FSAs (Flexible Spending Accounts) operate in the same manner as HSAs. Both, perhaps most importantly, give you the time to prepare for medical expenses. There are, however, some key differences.
In the case of HSAs, these can only be used with high-deductible health insurance plans. That means you’ll have to pay a decent amount out-of-pocket before your insurance policy will cover the rest. The plus side is that the funds you put into an HSA do not expire and can be taken with you to another job. Furthermore, any funds you contribute to your HSA are tax deductible.
The money you set aside for an FSA must be spent before the end of the year, or the funds will be lost. However, the good news is that contributing to your FSA will reduce your taxable wages since it’s being funded with pretax money.
Whether you’re going with an HSA or an FSA, be sure to keep documentation of all of your expenses so you can be paid back.
For some people, health insurance might not be an option.
Perhaps you enrolled in health insurance after learning you had cancer. Some providers won’t cover what they deem to be a pre-existing condition — even if your diagnosis was only a few days prior to being approved for insurance.
For these situations, there are other options to finance your cancer treatments.
It is possible to help diminish the high cost of cancer treatments with the help of a personal loan. By consolidating your medical debt into a personal loan, you can avoid paying the total sum immediately and can break it down into more manageable payments instead. Most lenders will allow you to pay back your loan in monthly installments over the span of a few years.
Most personal loans range from 12 to 60 months, and come with an average APR of between 10% to 28%.
Personal loans are a good option for people who know exactly how much they need to borrow. You will be charged interest on a personal loan, but those monthly payments, even with interest, may still be more affordable than coming up with a large sum of money all at once.
When thinking about a personal loan for cancer treatments, you’ll want to take your credit rating into account. This will determine your loan payment estimate and is crucial to helping you plan financially without going bankrupt.
The good news is that unsecured personal loans are not generally tied to any assets. Whereas you might have to put up your home as collateral for a home loan, this does not apply with an unsecured personal loan.
Just be on the lookout when it comes to some lenders. A few might charge an origination fee which is an upfront fee charged by the lender for processing your loan application. If your credit score is too low, this can also limit your loan options.