Understanding the Costs Related to Cancer Care

March 4, 2014
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Common costs related to cancer care.


You’re listening to a podcast from Cancer.Net. This cancer information website is produced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, known as ASCO, the world’s leading professional organization for doctors that care for people with cancer. 

Today we’ll discuss common costs related to cancer care.

After you are diagnosed with cancer, it’s important to think about the different costs that could add up during treatment and recovery. This can be difficult, since you are already focusing on your health and learning about your diagnosis. However, knowing what costs to expect will help you budget for them and find any support or financial assistance you may need.

Whether you have private health insurance, government insurance -- such as Medicare or Medicaid -- or no insurance, you are encouraged to talk openly with your health care team soon after diagnosis about the costs of your care. Even patients with health insurance can be left with costs that add up quickly, and there are different resources to help patients manage this financial impact.

Some costs may be more obvious to you than others. These are sometimes called the medical costs. For example, you may think about the price of a certain medication and how much you will have to pay for it based on your insurance coverage.

Let’s start by talking about the different types of medical costs that may occur. Here are three common financial categories for medical costs related to cancer care.

  • The first category is doctor appointments. There are costs for the medical care you receive at each doctor visit, such as a physical examination or check-up. Usually, your insurance provider requires you to pay a fee called a co-payment, or co-pay. The amount of the co-pay is set by the insurance company, not the doctor or doctor’s office. In addition, you will typically receive a separate bill for each laboratory test, such as a blood or urine test, done during your appointment.

  • The second category is the price of your specific cancer treatment plan. There are charges for the medical care you receive during your cancer treatment, such as each time you receive radiation therapy or for having a specific surgery. And, if you’re participating in a clinical trial, there may be other cost-related factors to consider.

    In general, it’s important to know how much of your treatment costs will be covered by insurance, and how much won’t be covered – these are called “out of pocket” costs. Talk with your doctor about how often you will receive treatments and how long the treatment period will last so you can plan for your total out-of-pocket costs.

  • Related to this is the third major category for cancer care, which is paying for prescription medicines during treatment, such as chemotherapy as well as drugs to help relieve side effects.

In addition to medical costs, there are other costs -- often called hidden costs or additional costs—because they are less obvious at first but still can add up quickly. These include the increased costs of daily living that are due to the illness and its treatment. Let’s examine some common categories of these additional costs:

  • Transportation costs is a financial category for you to consider. You may have expenses due to traveling to and from the doctor’s office or treatment center, whether it is by car, bus, train, or airplane. This category may also include the price of hotels or other lodging if you receive treatment far away from home.

  • Another category is family and living expenses. You may have costs related to hiring people to help you take care of your house and family during your cancer treatment, such as child care or elder care.

  • Caregiving, at-home care, and long-term care are also a category. You may have additional costs for the care that you may need, such as paying for someone to fix your meals or take you to each medical appointment. Your costs may also include extended nursing care at a specialized facility.

  • The last category is employment, legal, and financial issues. You may have costs for professional guidance in these areas related to issues from your diagnosis, such as on-the-job questions or when filing your income taxes.  

A good first step is to think through which of these cost categories – both medical costs and associated costs -- could affect you once treatment begins. Once you’ve outlined those cost categories, then you can think about the specific cost items in each one. If you need assistance with this, talk with a family member or friend. And, remember that your health care team can help you identify costs related to your treatment options, suggest ways to help reduce or manage medical and associated costs, and refer you to support services that address the financial difficulties many people with cancer face. In particular, an oncology social worker can help connect you with these resources.

Addressing the costs of the disease and its treatment as soon as possible may help you feel more in charge of your financial future. 

For more information on the topic of managing the cost of cancer care, visit www.cancer.net, which offers a free booklet on this topic. Thank you for listening to this Cancer.Net podcast.