“Twenty-seven THOUSAND, six-hundred and six dollars?” my voice inched up the panic scale as I read the number out loud to an empty room and the kitchen table. “For ONE infusion of Rituximab?” I checked the number again, then flipped to the last page of the 25-page hospital bill. “That would explain the pharmacy bill of $135,870.25,” I muttered. And the total hospital bill for a 28-day stay of $249,190.38. I wondered if someone offered financial aid for cancer.
Financial Aid for Cancer Patients?
Despite the fact that we had excellent insurance, the reality of how much the hospital charged for one infusion of a chemotherapy drug a came as a shock. If we didn’t have excellent insurance, my husband would be dead.
Tears of gratitude coursed down my face. As a teacher, I often grumbled over the long hours and the low pay (in one state I worked in, I made $20.00 too much a month to qualify for welfare). I would grumble no more, because the life-ring of health insurance surely offset any hours of overtime and playground duty I ever grumbled about.
Tears of sorrow mixed with the other tears, too. What about all the people who didn’t have health insurance and had cancer in their family? I could scarcely pay the bills each month, much less keep up with co-payments and our portion of the astronomical bills.
Did hospitals treat patients based on whether or not they had insurance? Did they reserve the really good drugs for those with really good insurance? Maybe I didn’t want to know the answer to that question—the stress of trying to hold everything together squeezed me on a daily basis and followed me like a black cloud wherever I went.
Living on Credit
Every time I presented a credit card to pay for a plane ticket to race to my husband’s side when his condition worsened I repeated my new mantra, “At least I don’t actually have to pay that quarter million dollar hospital bill!”
I repeated it as I plunked down my credit card to buy a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and a clean change of undies because I had ended up a thousand miles from home without those important items. I repeated it when I plopped down my credit card (a different one this time because the other was maxed out) to pay for a hotel room for Pedro and I while we awaited the results of that morning’s stem-cell harvest (where was the Ronald McDonald House for grown-ups, I wondered).
While I could ignore the reams of paper representing the hospital charges, I had a harder time ignoring the fat credit-card bills that came like clockwork (whether I could pay them or not).
Friends and Family: The First Line of Defense
Fortunately, friends and church members started a fund to cover travel costs so my parents could bring our daughters down for a (last?) visit—twice. But the other expenses kept adding up. We had NEVER lived an extravagant lifestyle. We drove old cars and dined at Taco Bell once a month. Vacations meant gas for the vehicles and camping instead of staying in hotels. We furnished our house with hand-me-downs, garage sale bargains, and fleamarket finds.
It took us twelve years to pay off the debt associated with cancer.
Doing Cancer Differently
Would I have ‘done’ cancer caregiving differently if I had know how long it would take to pay off the debt? Most likely. I would have spent more time researching ways to receive financial aid and support from a wider community. Since those days, I’ve discovered that some organizations, such as Cancer Care, offer FREE counseling services—over the phone, even! Other organizations assist with travel expenses and prescription co-payments.
The situation differed for my blogging partner, Carol Bovee. Hospital staff made sure to offer financial aid advice from the beginning, but she and her husband were so focused on their son’s recovery that the offers didn’t register. They felt that their son’s life-or-death situation required all of their attention.
As life settled into the routine of treatment (a three-year process), just balancing their jobs, their son’s treatment and spending time with their other children provided enough challenges—they didn’t have time to seek out financial aid and free trips to Disney, nor the energy to fill out the applications.
Six Ideas for Finding Financial Aid
1. Find a key person to do the research for you. When you receive a diagnosis, people want to help out. Find a trusted friend or family member who loves research. Let THAT PERSON find the applications for financial aid, and then all YOU have to do is look them over.
2. Ask the hospital social worker. They know of any financial assistance available through the hospital or other organizations—then pass the applications on to your key person to fill out and keep track of.
3. Take advantage of free counseling and support services. Trust us. You may think that you’re handling things ‘just fine,’ but a safe person to vent to is invaluable for YOUR emotional health and wellbeing.
4. If you are part of a faith community, talk to the pastor or reverend about financial assistance. If you aren’t comfortable asking, ask your point person to have that talk. A friend from a different faith community actually alerted HER church and they gave us enough money to get a lap top computer for Pedro so that he could video chat with our girls during his long absences.
5. If someone wants to throw a fundraiser for your loved one—let them do it! People WANT to help. Even if you have good insurance, the cost of fuel, missed work, co-pays and other incidentals add up. When your season of caregiving is over, you can help someone else. Perhaps your point person for financial aid would be willing to organize a fundraiser.
6. Launch a Go Fund Me Campaign. A friend of ours who had a similar diagnosis as Pedro’s successfully raised over $20,000 to pay off the portion of his bills and expenses that his insurance didn’t cover.
These organizations have information about financial aid or services for cancer caregivers and patients. If you know of a resource that should be added to the list, email me the link at: email@example.com so that we can include it!
Give Forward provides an easy-to-use online fundraising campaign platform with ideas on how to make it successful.
Candlelighters for Children with Cancer Childhood cancer help with local decision makers.
Children’s Miracle Network -provides national support done at the local level as well (local fundraisers through national chains).
.Check out gofundme.com for more information (this isn’t the only website that does this–it’s just the one I have personal knowledge about).