Health Insurance and Financial Assistance for the Cancer Patient

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Other sources of financial help

Most families find it hard to turn to others or to public agencies and outside groups for financial help. The extra expenses of cancer may be the first time a family has had problems with money. Families should remember that their problems in this situation are often short-lived and not unique. In the future, they could be the ones who can offer help to others.

Here are just a few of the many possible sources of help for families who need extra financial support at this time:

  • Income assistance for low-income families through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
  • Income assistance for needy families from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
  • Help with treatment-related travel, meals, and lodging from public and private programs.
  • Help with basic living costs (such as rent, mortgage, insurance premiums, utilities, and telephone) from public and private programs.
  • Help from church, civic, social, and fraternal groups in the community.

Help might also be available from groups like the Salvation Army, Catholic Social Services, the United Way, Jewish Social Services, and other groups that can be found in the yellow pages.

Though it’s not available in all areas, the United Way of America and the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems have set up a 211 service in many parts of the country. You can call 211 to find out what help might be available in your area, or visit them online at www.211.org.

There are National Association of Area Agencies on Aging offices in many areas that can help older people with cancer. Call 1-800-677-1116 for the Eldercare Locator to learn what’s in your area, and whether you might be able to get help. You can also check online at www.n4a.org.

The American Cancer Society also has many helpful services. Call us to find out more about them and to see if there are other local resources in your area.

For help finding a place to stay during treatment

Sometimes cancer treatment is not given close to home. Many treatment centers have short-term housing centers or discount programs set up with nearby motels and hotels. The clinic social worker or oncology nurse may have suggestions for low-cost housing during hospital or clinic treatment.

The American Cancer Society Hope Lodge® program can offer families a free place to stay when cancer treatment is given far from home. Contact us to find out if there’s a Hope Lodge location near your treatment center.

Most major pediatric treatment centers have a Ronald McDonald House nearby. These houses provide low-cost or free housing to patients and their immediate families. Ronald McDonald houses are designed to offer a nice break to any family with a seriously ill child, not just those with limited funds. Although partly funded by McDonald’s Children’s Charities, each house has its own management, sets its own admission standards, and operates according to its own rules. Check with your health care team’s social worker or nurse to learn more, or contact Ronald McDonald House Charities online at www.rmhc.org or call 630-623-7048. Families must be referred by medical staff and/or social workers at the treatment facility.

Another possible option is the Healthcare Hospitality Network. This group of nearly 200 non-profit organizations throughout the US provides free or low-cost family-centered lodging to families getting medical treatment far from home. You can call 1-800-542-9730 or check online at www.hhnetwork.org to see if there’s a location that works for you.

For help with housing needs or mortgage payments

The extra costs of treatment or major loss of family income may make it hard for families to pay their mortgage or rent on time. To keep a good credit rating, talk with your creditor or landlord about your situation and try to make special arrangements. Family, friends, or church members may be able to give you short-term help if they are told about the problem. Also talk with your cancer team social worker who may know of special resources.

Families who need to move out of their homes after a cancer diagnosis should talk with their county department of social services to find out if they qualify for government supported housing programs.

For help with driving and ground transportation costs

People who have Medicaid may be entitled to help with travel to medical centers and doctors’ offices for treatment. This may take the form of payment or being paid back (reimbursed) for gas, payment of bus fare, or may mean using a vanpool. County departments of social services in each state arrange for help with transportation, but families must ask for it by talking to their Medicaid case worker.

The American Cancer Society Road To Recovery® program is available in some areas. Trained volunteers drive patients and families to hospitals and clinics for treatment. Contact your local American Cancer Society office for more information on the type of transportation program available in your area.

Community and church groups may be sources of help with travel or its costs, too. Also, talk to your team social worker about getting help with hospital or clinic parking fees.

For help with air transportation costs

The National Patient Travel Center (NPTC) is a central clearinghouse that refers callers to over 3 dozen charitable or special discounted patient air transport service groups. NPTC can help patients find a program to assist with the costs of air travel for illness-related reasons, including air ambulance services. The National Patient Travel Helpline screens callers, verifies the illness and need for transport, and determines if the caller is eligible for help through one of the air travel programs. You can call them at 1-800-296-1217, or visit them online at www.patienttravel.org.

For help with telephone service costs

Help with the cost of basic charges for phone service may be available from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF; see “To learn more” for contact information). Speak with the eligibility worker in your county department of social services for more information. If you have a monthly mobile phone plan, call your mobile carrier before you go over your minutes limit. Sometimes they can help you avoid going over your limit for the month. Families that have problems controlling charges might want to think about buying pre-paid calling cards, pre-paid cell phones, or plans with pre-paid minutes.

The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) is another resource that may help if your income is very low. Visit their website at www.usac.org/li/getting-service/benefits.aspx to learn more about the home or mobile phone service help that’s available in your state. Or you can call 1-888-641-8722 and follow the low-income/lifeline prompts.

You can also call the American Cancer Society to find out about other local sources of help with telephone service.

For help with food and food costs

State and Federal government programs: Some government programs help with food and food costs for low-income people. Those listed below are offered by the US Department of Agriculture, though some are run by states, for different groups of people.

The best-known program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly called the Food Stamp Program. It allows people to shop for food in grocery stores using a special Electronic Benefits Transfer card (much like a bank card).

These programs distribute food to needy people:

  • Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

Voucher and coupon programs, such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC, for pregnant women, infants, and children) include access to fresh foods for families and seniors:

  • Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
  • Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program

These programs are for school children, for meals at school or during the summer:

  • National School Lunch Program
  • Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program
  • School Breakfast Program
  • Special Milk Program
  • Team Nutrition
  • Summer Food Service Program (food for kids when school’s out)

Keep in mind that some individuals and families can qualify for more than one type of help. By phone, call your local health department or social services department to learn about SNAP. See your phone book’s blue pages or call 1-800-221-5689 to get the local number. You can learn more about all of these programs and others by visiting www.whyhunger.org/findfood. For more, call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-348-6479 (1-866-3-HUNGRY); for Spanish, call 1-877-842-6273.

Meals on Wheels: This program is designed more for people who are disabled, homebound, or elderly. Volunteers deliver ready-to-eat meals to your home. Costs or fees vary depending on your age and where you live. You can contact them at 888-998-6325 or visit their website at www.mowaa.org.

Other kinds of help

You may also get general help from special funds in your medical center or community. Or maybe you can get help through fundraising done for you or your family. Your cancer team social worker can give you more information about resources that might help. There are organizations and written materials that can give you ideas on ways to raise money, too. (See “To learn more.”)

About Internet access

You may notice that many groups and organizations now have a lot of information on the Internet and it may be harder to call or reach a real person to ask questions. When you do call, you might find that their answering messages encourage you to find the information you need on their website. For many groups, this is a way to save money and focus more funds on services for those in need. But this doesn’t work for everyone who needs help.

Many people, especially families who are having financial troubles, don’t have Internet access at home. This can make it harder for them to find what they need. You may want to see if your local public library offers free use of their computers and Internet access. An added benefit is that librarians may be able to help you.

Still, you don’t always need Internet access to find help. Many organizations also provide toll-free phone numbers so that people without Internet access can learn about and ask for services. Don’t be embarrassed to tell people that you don’t have Internet access and you can’t check their website.

And you can always call us, day or night, to find out about getting the help you need.


Last Medical Review: 11/04/2014
Last Revised: 11/04/2014