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Need Help Navigating the Medical Minefield?

Article date: July 1, 2008

America's health care system seems to get more daunting to deal with each year. If you don't believe it, just talk to a senior citizen, or to someone dealing with a serious chronic illness like cancer.

 Researching treatment options … trying to make sense of insurance coverage and resolve disputes … finding ways to manage the cost of co-pays and other medical expenses not covered by insurance. If dealing with all of this seems increasingly like a full-time job, well, that's because it often can be.

This reality is behind the recent growth of commercial health care advocate agencies in the US. These are hired guns who charge varying rates to act in a patient's best interest as a go-between with the healthcare system. Payment plans – whether by the hour or a flat fee, for an individual or an entire family -- can cost a pretty penny.

What if you don't have a pretty penny?

A 2007 US Census Bureau report found that 47 million Americans were without health insurance at some point the previous year, while a report from the Commonwealth Fund estimated as many as 25 million were inadequately insured.

Factor in the uncounted number of people who have insurance but are struggling to make ends meet and it's clear that for many millions of Americans, an extra expense is not an option. 

Free, Individualized Assistance

Voluntary health organizations like your American Cancer Society have long worked to solve this problem. The Society in particular has upped it efforts in this regard since announcing its Access to Care campaign last year.

Now the Society has formed a strategic collaboration with the Patient Advocate Foundation that will give millions of cancer patients and their families quick access to timely information and specialized patient assistance resources.

ACS support will help the Foundation extend its ability to provide case management services and provide much-needed assistance to cancer patients who have lost, or are in danger of losing, a job or health care coverage, or who face other challenges that impact their access to care.

"A cancer diagnosis can be the most overwhelming experience a person may ever face in his or her lifetime. Coupled with financial instability, the journey can become significantly more challenging to manage," said Terry Music, interim chief mission officer of the American Cancer Society.

"Supporting Patient Advocate Foundation's programs and services allows us to connect patients to case management resources that can help to vastly improve the patient's quality of life by increasing access to health care, continuation of employment, and preservation of financial stability," Music said.

Remember: 1-800-227-2345

The primary means of making that connection will be by calling the Society's National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345. Trained cancer information specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at the NCIC to answer questions about cancer, help patients understand their disease and make informed decisions about their health, link callers with resources in their communities, and provide information on local events.

For callers who are in need of services provided by the Patient Advocate Foundation, a referral process will be established to quickly connect them with a case manager at the Foundation. That person is trained to assist people who facing barriers to health care. Such obstacles can include specific issues with an insurer, employer, and/or creditor regarding insurance; job retention; and/or debt crisis matters relative to having been diagnosed with a chronic, life-threatening or debilitating disease.

All services are confidential and free to the patient.

The Patient Advocate Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 1996 with national headquarters in Newport News, VA, and offices in California, New York, Iowa, Florida, and North Carolina. Its mission is to safeguard patients through effective mediation assuring access to care, maintenance of employment and preservation of their financial stability relative to their diagnosis of life-threatening or debilitating diseases.

Annually, the Foundation provides professional case management services to more than 44,000 patients with additional support to 6.8 million requests for information.

ACS Services, Programs, Advocacy You Can Count On

The National Cancer Information Center (NCI). Trained cancer information specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer questions about cancer and to link callers to 1-800-ACS-2345 with community resources.

The Patient Navigator Program. A program that places trained patient navigators on-site at a medical facility to help patients connect to Society programs and services, as well as identify local resources that can help. American Cancer Society Patient Navigators are currently in more than 90 facilities nationwide.

I Can Cope. Both a community-based and online educational program for people facing cancer -- either personally, or as a friend or family caregiver.

Look Good...Feel Better. Specially trained cosmetologists conduct group and one-on-one sessions showing women beauty techniques to help restore their appearance and self-image during chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The program is co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the National Cosmetology Association, and the Personal Care Products Council.

Transportation to Treatment. Programs such as Road to Recovery that get patients to life-saving treatments.

Hope Lodge. A nationwide network of free, temporary housing to help cancer patients who must travel away from home for treatment. There are 26 Hope Lodges throughout the US.

Cancer Survivors Network. On CSN, patients and caregivers can find message boards, tools to create personal messages, a free online newsletter, suggestions on coping, and links to information on clinical trials, educational programs, scholarship opportunities, and more.

ACS CAN. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action NetworkSM (ACS CAN) is a sister advocacy organization that works to make cancer issues a national priority and to expand health care access to cancer patients, caregivers, and survivors.


Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.

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