A diagnosis of cancer can quickly impose an economic burden on you and your family, especially for those in lower income brackets. Costs for surgery, other treatments and medication can mount, even if you have insurance and are dealing only with co-payments. If treatment at a faraway facility is recommended, long-distance travel costs can escalate quickly, too.
A variety of organizations and programs provide services such as transportation to treatment, access to medications or lodging, or other necessities. One or more of the services below may be able to provide some relief.
- National Patient Travel Helpline, www.patienttravel.org, 800-296-1217, is a Virginia Beach, Va.-based organization that helps cancer patients get from here to there for treatment. They serve as a kind of umbrella organization, working with several other groups to connect you to the service best suited to your needs. For instance, if you are ambulatory and can walk to the plane and need to get to a treatment facility fewer than 1,000 miles from home, you may qualify for Angel Flight, a nonprofit organization of volunteer pilots who use their own aircraft to fly patients to treatment. You must have financial need but no financial statement is required. If your destination is more than 1,000 miles from home, you may qualify for the Mercy Medical Airlift program, which obtains donated frequent flier miles and books patients on commercial plans for treatment or evaluation. Another program, funded by the California Community Foundation, offers air ambulance services to vets of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and their families. A fourth program, Air Compassion America, helps patient find discounted air ambulance flights.
Success story: A 48-year-old Wisconsin ovarian cancer survivor and her husband and five children were living on disability and unemployment. When she needed treatment, the helpline arranged free air transport to California and to Texas, removing a huge financial burden.
- Hope Lodge is a service of the American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org. Twenty-two lodges in 16 states and Puerto Rico currently provide temporary free housing for cancer patients who need outpatient treatment. A complete list can be obtained by calling ACS, 800-ACS-2345 or online at http://www5.cancer.org/docroot/subsite/hopelodge/index.asp. The emphasis is on providing a nurturing, home-like environment that's conducive to healing.
Success story: A woman with cancer was staying at the Hope Lodge in Burlington, Vt., and knew that her stay would include Thanksgiving Day. More than 15 of her family and friends rented a school bus and rode in from New York to spend the holiday with her.
- Another ACS program, Road to Recovery, provides transportation to treatments locally for cancer patients who need it. The rides are arranged by calling the society's toll-free number or the local American Cancer Society office.
- CancerCare, www.cancercare.org, 800-813-HOPE, is a national nonprofit organization based in New York that provides transportation, some side effect medications and child care costs to cancer patients in need of those services. Grants are dispensed, typically in amounts of about $200, although they vary greatly depending on need and expenses. In the last five years, nearly $22 million in grants have been given. In a typical year, 16,000 families are served. A downloadable application form is online.
Success story: A woman who lived in a small Virginia town, diagnosed at age 51 with breast cancer, needed to obtain treatments 40 miles from her home. She got a grant to help cover transportation costs and some of her insurance co-payments. She's successfully finished treatment, and now has a grant to help cover the cost of the prescription medication her doctor prescribed to prevent recurrence.
- Cancer Patient Care, www.cancerpatientcare.org, 509-456-0446, is a regional organization serving cancer patients in Eastern Washington state and Northern Idaho. (Across the country, other regionally-based services also help cancer patients in need. Ask your physician or a social worker if they know of such services in your area.) At Cancer Patient Care, services include financial help for basic needs such as utilities and groceries, transportation to treatment, wigs and other equipment. In 2005, the organization, based in Spokane, helped more than 2,000 patients and family members.
Success story: A single mom, 34, with two children, lost her job; Cancer Patient Care gave her a $100 voucher for groceries, paid her utility bills and put gas in her car.
- Needy Meds, www.needymeds.com, has no phone help line but on its website directs patients to patience assistance programs for brand name and generic drugs, government programs and other resources. Think of it as the "yellow pages" for finding medications. You can search a drug alphabetically by brand or generic name to find out if it is available through a patient assistance program. You can also check the list of nearly 400 programs and companies, including those that don't have a program for medicine assistance.
- Hill-Burton Act, 800-638-0742. This federal program provides construction and improvement funds to hospitals with strings attached-they must provide some amount of care free to those who cannot afford to pay. Nationwide, about 268 facilities are obligated under Hill-Burton. To find them, visit http://www.hrsa.gov/gethealthcare/affordable/hillburton/.
- The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, administered through the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gives states the option of providing medical assistance through the Medicaid program to eligible women. Eligibility requires that women were screened through the CDC's NBCCEDP's program and found to have breast or cervical cancer or pre-cancers. To find a local program, visit http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/cancercontacts/nbccedp/contacts.asp
- Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition, (CFAC), http://www.cancerfac.org/, is a coalition of financial assistance organizations joining forces to help cancer patients experience better health and well-being by limiting financial challenges through educating patients and providers about existing resources and advocating on behalf of patients. Among CFAC's member organizations are the American Cancer Society, Cancer Care, the National Marrow Donor Program and nine more. While CFAC cannot respond to individual requests for assistance group maintains a database of resources searchable by diagnosis, type of aid (housing, expenses, prosthetics) and zip code. To perform a resource search visit: http://www.cancerfac.org/.
- Patient Services Inc. has been providing a safety net for people with a number of diseases since 1989. The group offers assistance in locating insurance, subsidizing premium, treatment and pharmacy costs and advocating for patients with Medicare and Social Security Disability. Check the site: https://www.patientservicesinc.org/ to see if your condition is one of those aided by Patient Services, Inc.
- Patient Access Network Foundation (PAN), aids people afford the copayments for cancer or chronic disease medications. Patients aided by PAN have insurance but lack the funds for out-of-pocket expenses. Depending on their illness, insured patients can receive amounts between $1500 to $8500 a year in copayment. To find out if you are eligible visit https://www.panfoundation.org/ or call 866-316-PANF (7263).
- Joe's House is a nonprofit organization providing a nation-wide online service that helps cancer patients and their families find lodging near treatments centers. Their website, http://www.joeshouse.org/, lists cancers treatment centers and hospitals around the country with nearby lodging facilities that offer a discount. The site also lists lodging chain partners offering discounts. Joe's House can also be reached at: 877-JOESHOU (877-563-7468).
- Partnership for Prescription Assistance, helps qualifying patients without prescription drug coverage get the medicines they need by putting them in touch any one of hundreds of programs tailored for different needs and conditions. Visit their site at http://www.pparx.org/ or call toll-free 1-888-4ppa (1-888-477-2669) for more information and to determine your eligibility
- Catholic Charities website, http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org/NetCommunity/, offers a searchable database of member organizations around the nation. Many local groups offer programs to help families meet the costs of medical care.