Sources of Financial Help for
Uninsured Cancer Patients
February 24th, 2013 by Holly Cornish
You probably know that cancer brings bills that can be a crushing burden to the cancer patient and the whole family. Can the uninsured patient get any financial help? The answer is yes, but you need patience and perseverance.
Fortunately, there are many non-profit organizations whose focus is to provide various types of assistance to cancer patients. Let’s take a look and see what kind of help you can get. . .
Continued below. . .
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I’ll speak about the conventional sources of health insurance in a moment. Those may be of limited use, especially if you prefer natural or alternative treatments. So let’s look first at what’s available privately. . .
The Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition is a group of 14 member organizations that focuses on educating cancer patients and providers about available financial resources.
The group also provides advocacy services to people burdened with the costs of cancer treatment and care. That’s important, because many people have already piled up massive bills in the conventional medical system before they give up on it and turn to alternatives.
The CFAP’s current lineup of member organizations includes:
- American Cancer Society
- CancerCare Co-Payment Assistance Foundation
- Chronic Disease Fund
- HealthWell Foundation
- The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
- The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Co-Pay Assistance Program Lymphoma Research Foundation
- The Max Foundation
- National Organization for Rare Diseases
- National Marrow Donor Program
- Patient Access Network Foundation
- Patient Services Incorporated
- Sarcoma Alliance
Each of these organizations provides various forms of financial assistance, including services and products at reduced costs.
The services will vary depending on locations served and the needs of the individual. For this reason, it is best to contact each organization to determine what is available for your area and level of need.
Considering the sponsors involved, I doubt if they’ll help you much with alternative treatments. But they provide other help that’s not medical in nature. And if you’re pursuing a combination of conventional and alternative treatments — and especially if your caregiver’s name is followed by the magic letters “M.D.” — you might persuade them to help you out on the medical side, too.
What are some examples of services
that may be covered?
I can’t say these services will be available for everyone, but here are just a few examples of aid that may be available:
- The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) program consists of drug companies, health care providers, patient advocacy organizations, and community groups. They help search more than 475 public and private patient assistance programs to find assistance for cancer patients who don’t have prescription drug coverage.
- The American Cancer Society has established “Hope Lodges” throughout the United States. These housing units give families a place to stay when a patient must receive cancer treatments far from home. They also provide free wigs to cancer patients.
- The Corporate Angel Network provides free airfare to cancer patients who can walk and travel without life-support or medical attention.
- The Brenda Mehling Cancer Fund (BMCF) is for patients aged 18 to 40 and provides assistance with daily needs not covered by insurance. A typical amount is $600 that can be used to cover medical co-payments, rent /mortgage, transportation, car insurance, repairs, and groceries.
- The Breasts Friends Hat Project provides free hats to women being treated for cancer.
- Cleaning for a Reason partners with maid services to offer four free monthly house cleanings to help women undergoing cancer treatment.
This list represents just a few of the resources that can help ease the financial burdens cancer patients experience. You’ll find more examples at the website www.1UpOnCancer.com.
If I had cancer and needed help, I’d explore these outfits to see what’s available. Will they give a free wig or a hat, or cleaning services, or help with car insurance or repairs, or free airfare. . .if you’re seeking alternative treatment? I don’t know, but it can’t hurt to ask.
And this would be a good time to invoke your own “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. For example, if you’re flying to one of the excellent alternative cancer clinics in Nevada or Arizona or California, there’s no particular reason to tell the charitable organization that it’s for alternative treatments. These clinics are run by licensed M.D.’s — and I would hope your choice of caregiver is your own business.
May you or someone you love find an abundance of resources to help you cope with the many challenges of battling cancer! If you know anything about the organizations above or have received assistance from them, please post your experiences on our Facebook page or write me at [email protected].
Meanwhile, what kind of help can you get from conventional insurance?
Welcome to the health insurance wonderland
A study sponsored by the American Cancer Society of nearly 4 million cancer patients found that the uninsured are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at its advanced stages. We can guess why: not having insurance, they delay seeking help.
Big mistake. When cancer reaches the advanced stage, it’s more expensive to treat and — more important — the patients are less likely to survive. So the outlook is not encouraging for the uninsured. The time to think about insurance is BEFORE you get sick.
But even the insured are at risk of being underinsured when expensive medical care is required. Insurance doesn’t cover everything. So make your plans for a rainy day before it starts raining. And your plan should include putting something aside to pay the deductibles and other expenses that insurance won’t cover.
Ready to seek insurance? Let’s look at the options. . .
You might qualify for one of these programs…
Health insurance in the U.S. comes in the following four broad categories:
- Employer sponsored—in this system, lower-risk participants help subsidize the expenses for sick, high-risk participants; unfortunately, not all companies offer benefits. And some workers may not be eligible for coverage, or may choose not to participate, or cannot afford their share of the premiums.
- Medicare—this federally funded program is designed for citizens age 65 or older or for citizens of any age with certain disabling conditions. Medicare includes coverage for hospitalization, doctor visits and prescription drugs. To determine your eligibility, visit www.Medicare.gov.
- Medicaid—this program is funded by both federal and state funds; benefits vary from one state to another, but Medicaid typically pays the medical bills of certain low-income and needy people. Because coverage varies by state, you must check your eligibility at www.Govbenefits.gov.
- Private, non-group—individuals or families pay for their own insurance coverage; traditionally people seeking this type of coverage paid higher rates for not being part of a group and faced denial of benefits
It almost goes without saying that none of the options above provides significant coverage for alternative or natural treatments. Coverage is available for the traditional triad of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
BUT there’s some hope. As I said, there are integrative physicians with the magic letters “M.D.” and some of the treatments they use — such as low-dose chemotherapy — are probably covered by insurance. You may have to pay for the nutritional supplements or for alternative treatments such as ozone therapy or UV blood irradiation — but the chemo, the diagnostic tests, the bed, the food and the doctor’s fees should be insured, it seems to me.
There’s more: Cancer patients often have been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. And cancer patients who do have insurance often pay high premiums or pay for insurance that won’t cover cancer screenings, treatments and follow-up visits.
That may be changing.
The Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, is intended to make healthcare more affordable and available, including to people diagnosed with cancer. My understanding is that, under this law, beginning in 2014, a person who’s already been diagnosed with cancer must be granted coverage. I don’t know about the costs, I haven’t delved into that — but you can get insurance.
Some of the law’s key provisions include:
- Ending lifetime limits on benefits
- Limiting out-of-pocket costs and deductibles
- Ending higher charges for people based on their health status (beginning in 2014)
- Helping low- and moderate-income families buy insurance
- Preventing insurance companies from ending benefits when a person gets sick
If you play it right, it looks to me like the uninsured person, even one who prefers alternative treatments, might be able to get significant financial help from both public and private sources.
Best thing of all is to avoid cancer in the first place, so you never need financial aid or insurance. Our last issue talked about a tip that can help you do just that. If you missed it, scroll down and read it now.
A So-Called Nutritional “Band Aid”
Makes Sense as a Cancer Preventive
Critics say they’re ‘just a Band Aid’…
So when this contentious new study came out saying multivitaimins could reduce your risk of cancer, it undoubtedly shocked a few people, most notably the ‘medical establishment’.
So once again, we’re forced to try to separate fact from fiction. Read on…
Continued below. . .
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Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one. Case in point: Researchers recently confirmed what many have considered a “no-brainer” for a long time…
A well-balanced diet is
the secret to better health
Every day you make decisions about what you’ll eat, and whether you’re committed to taking your supplements. Those decisions may radically affect the state of your health as you age.
Here’s a quick summary of what this ‘controversial’ study discovered…
In the study, Harvard researchers followed nearly 15,000 male doctors aged fifty and older… and found that taking a daily multivitamin could reduce cancer rates by approximately eight percent.
Now eight percent may not sound significant, but as Dr. Demetrius Albanes of the National Cancer Institute points out, “If you think of the hundreds of thousands of new cases of cancer every year, 8 percent can add up to quite a bit.”
Indeed, it may be enough of a reduction to make it worth popping a daily multivitamin. Now personally, I prefer to take each vitamin in an individual pill rather than take a multi. But a multi is better than nothing, as this new study demonstrates.
This study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was different than previous studies on supplements versus cancer risk in several ways.
First of all, previous large studies weren’t placebo-controlled. They just observed what the subjects of the study were doing of their own choice. In the new study, the participants were assigned either a multivitamin or a placebo (without knowing which they were getting).
This eliminated one of the main problems with the older studies. It could be that people who take supplements are a relatively healthy group to begin with. They tend to eat a healthful and varied diet, stay physically active, and watch their weight. But in this study, the men were assigned either vitamins or a placebo. They didn’t choose. So their own choices didn’t have much bearing on the overall outcome.
Secondly, the JAMA study looked at men only, not women. These were all men over 50, not a cross-section of age groups. In fact, the men they studied were, on average, age 65 or older. They were followed for a long time — 11 years — which is longer than previous studies, and involved sufficient time for plenty of new cases of cancer to develop in a large group of older men.
Aside from being confined to men — a regrettable limitation — this was a type of long-term clinical study that’s considered highly reliable at determining cause and effect. One group took a daily Centrum Silver® capsule. The other group took placebos. They didn’t know which pill they were receiving. And the study lasted long enough to produce meaningful results. And in the end, the vitamin group suffered less cancer than the placebo group.
So, all you have to do is pop a pill and you’ve cut your chances of getting cancer by eight percent?
Here’s where the issue gets muddier…
I think that’s probably pretty accurate, but critics still aren’t prepared to accept the cancer-fighting value of vitamins.
While the study appears to be well-designed and lengthy enough, critics point out that these men were all doctors… that they were a homogeneous, well-educated group, and were less racially, economically, and ethnically diverse than the general population. And with far fewer smokers. Those are all valid criticisms. Meaning, this one study isn’t the last word on the value of multivitamins.
Marji McCullough, a nutritional epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society suggested we should conduct similar studies of women, smokers and others before making generalizations.
True enough, but I’m not waiting for more proof (there are, in fact, thousands of other studies to show the value of vitamins).
Although Pfizer says it did not fund the study, the big drug company did supply the Centrum Silver® multivitamins used in the study. (Centrum Silver® is a Pfizer product.) What’s interesting is that the corporation then greatly downplayed the study’s results… presumably because it plays second fiddle in profit potential to their blockbuster anti-cancer drugs.
One of the oddest things is that the authors of this study announced it with a press release that made a snarky attack on previous studies that focused on taking large doses of just one or two vitamins, vs. a multivitamin that covers nearly all the bases. According to the authors of the new study, the previous studies showed that huge doses of individual vitamins were not effective as a cancer preventive.
Now I have to put a big, big asterisk on this statement. There are MANY individual studies showing vitamin D — at the very least — is an effective cancer preventive. And indeed, the value of vitamin D is now widely accepted by mainstream medicine. Other individual vitamins have been effective in reducing certain types of cancer. Folate, a B vitamin, reduces colon cancer for example. Vitamin C is a priceless cancer preventive AND a valuable treatment for those who already have cancer. Large doses of vitamin C, given intravenously, may be one of the most valuable cancer treatments on earth.
I don’t advocate treating any one vitamin as a magic bullet. You should take them all, in the appropriate doses. But I’m troubled that the authors of this study made inaccurate statements about the value of individual nutrients in fighting cancer.
Warning: Don’t use multivitamins as an alibi for
sloppy dietary habits
But at least they said good things about multivitamins. So why do the researchers think multivitamins succeeded in reducing the cancer rate by 8%?
They theorize that the broad combination of low-dose vitamins and minerals contained in the Centrum Silver® multivitamin may have filled in nutritional gaps from a relatively poor diet.
That suggests a question: If a multivitamin prevents cancer because it provides a mix of nutrients similar to food, why not just eat more fruits and vegetables and skip the multivitamin?
Okay, I get that you shouldn’t use a multivitamin as an alibi for a nutrient-poor Standard American Diet, or as a replacement for eating high quality fruits and veggies.
But only 1.5 percent of Americans actually get their full recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables. A multivitamin pill is better than nothing.
Another consideration… neither plant-based foods nor animal foods are as nutrient-rich as they were fifty or a hundred years ago, due to soil depletion and one-crop farming.
Nutrients can also be destroyed during cooking. And inadequate absorption can sabotage you even further, leaving your cells begging for missing nutrients. (In fairness, absorption can also be an issue with supplements.)
But just as importantly, if you’re not eating a varied and minimally cooked diet you’re almost certain to have deficiencies. Even if you eat right most of the time, nearly everyone slips up from time to time.
A multivitamin helps you cover your bases. Like a life insurance policy. And based on this study, it seems to have few downsides.
Gladys Block, professor of public health and nutrition at the University of California-Berkeley states, “I really believe that essentially everybody can benefit from a multivitamin.”
That’s precisely why millions of Americans take them.
Here’s another thing to consider when you make your decision about multivitamins…
Not all vitamins are created equal! Indeed, there can be some downright radical differences among the many, many different brands.
The Centrum Silver® vitamins used in this study were made by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, so you can pretty much guarantee they were made in a lab.
Personally, I prefer vitamins and antioxidants that are extracted from plants with minimal processing. And, as I mentioned earlier, I take each vitamin in its own pill rather than a multivitamin. I take far more vitamin C than you’re going to find in any multivitamin. Ditto for vitamins B, D, and E. In my view, 2000 IU of vitamin D is the minimum, especially for older people, and I mean D3, not the inferior D2 that’s found in many multivitamins and used to “fortify” milk.
I also take vitamin K, an extremely valuable vitamin that’s almost never included in a multi. (It so happens Centrum Silver does contain vitamin K.) I take a much larger dose of vitamin B12 than you’ll get in a multi, and I take it sublingually (under the tongue), for better absorption. I take a high quality form of vitamin E (eight forms of vitamin E are found in nature). I doubt if the dose or quality of E in a multivitamin is worth much.
On a day when I eat a lot of food rich in beta-carotene, such as carrots or sweet potatoes, I might skip the vitamin A and beta-carotene pills. On a day when I’m not eating right, I might take more.
In short, multivitamins don’t cut it. They’re better than nothing, but that’s about all.
My standard for supplements
Instead of a supplement that’s made in a lab, make your supplement choices carefully. Here’s what I suggest…
Whenever possible, buy food-based supplements whether you’re buying a multivitamin or an individual vitamin. Note that Big Pharma probably calls its multivitamins food-grade. But here, I’m talking about supplements that are actually derived from real foods — broccoli, sea vegetables, green tea, and the many other wonderful plants that provide such rich nutrition.
Taking this a step further, you might want to consider organic, non-GMO, and soy-free, just as you may already choose for the food you eat.
Yes, food-derived vitamins may cost more, but may also help you avoid the collateral damage of a ‘drug-style’ supplement. Food is, after all, what your body is designed to burn for fuel.
Secondly, as much as possible, check your vitamin labels for excipients. These are additional ingredients that do nothing to enhance your health and may in fact harm it. They include flow agents and other things that are a convenience or reduce costs for the manufacturer. It can be a real challenge to find supplements free of them. But in many cases you can find them with a Google search for ‘supplements without excipients’ or something similar.
As long as you’re going to spend money on supplements, why not make the commitment to select those that won’t add any collateral damage to your wellbeing?
Remember, sometimes the
simplest answer is the best one
In conclusion, it should be obvious that a well-balanced diet is the secret to better health, and that your body runs best on real foods rich in nutrients — mostly vegetables, some fruit healthy fats (discussed in Issue #247), and free range organic eggs.
As David Katz, director of the Yale Preventive Research Center, who was not involved in the JAMA study, points out, “Maybe the active ingredient in broccoli is broccoli.”
But he follows that statement with the observation, “Clearly… taking a multivitamin is easy, changing dietary patterns is hard.”
In honor of your own health, why not add more quality foods to your plate every day… AND make sure your multivitamin (if you take one) is made from real whole food, not an isolate your body thinks is a drug?
Lee Euler, Publisher