The major costs of a cancer diagnosis and treatment are for things like time in the hospital, clinic visits, medicines, tests, surgeries and procedures, home health services, and services of doctors and other professionals. Insurance, managed care, or public health care programs pay most of these costs if you are covered by such a plan.
If you don’t have health insurance coverage, see our information on what kind of insurance or help you may be able to get. Health insurance is key if you or your child need cancer treatment. But there are also many indirect costs or other expenses when you or your child has cancer, along with their usual bills. These costs can be for things you still might be able to get help with from other sources.
For hands-on help, there’s no substitute for a social worker or navigator who works with your community and knows it well. They can suggest resources to help with healthcare, transportation, lodging, food and other needs. Find one through your cancer doctor or nurse.
Cancer costs can increase for many reasons such as:
Cancer treatment also can cause family members to lose time at work and, in some cases, all or part of their salary (see Working During Cancer Treatment).
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.
Here are just a few ideas of where you might be able to get help with some of the costs related to cancer treatment.
Sometimes cancer treatment is given far from 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 might know about 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.
Another option for adults or children with cancer 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 check online at www.hhnetwork.org to see if there’s a location that works for you.
Kids with cancer. Because childhood cancer is fairly rare, cancer treatment for kids often requires travel to a pediatric treatment center. Many of these centers have a Ronald McDonald House nearby. These houses provide low-cost or free housing for patients and their immediate families. They’re designed to offer a nice break for 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 admissions 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 at 630-623-7048 or www.rmhc.org. Families must be referred by medical staff and/or social workers at the treatment facility.
If you have Medicaid, check with your state Medicaid provider to see if it offers lodging assistance. Not all Medicaid plans cover the cost of short-term housing during cancer treatment.
A few people are able to get paid for time spent caregiving. Some states have Cash and Counseling Programs that can directly pay some caregivers. You can find out if your state has a program by contacting your local Medicaid office, social services, or health department.
The extra costs of cancer treatment or a 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 and stay in your home, 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’re told about the problem. Talk about your situation with the cancer treatment 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 can get into low-cost or government-supported housing programs. In some states this may be listed under the health department or welfare department.
People who have Medicaid may be entitled to help with travel to medical centers and doctors’ offices for cancer 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.
Local transit services may provide an option for lower cost transportation. Check with your local public transit agency to find out what options are available.
People who are disabled and not able to ride fixed-route public transportation may be eligible for paratransit (door-to-door) services. The options and costs vary, so check with your local public transit agency to see what is available in your area.
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 the American Cancer Society office at 1-800-227-2345 for more information on whether this program is available in your area.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, through its Patient Aid program, can help some families with the cost of gas and parking for outpatient treatment. This aid is only for those with blood cancers (leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma). There’s a limit on the amount of financial help to each patient and family for each year. Check with your team social worker about this program or contact the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at 1-800-955-4572 or visit www.lls.org.
Mercy Medical Angels provides cost-effective non-emergency transportation for patients. This might include gas cards, or bus, train, or airfare for long distance travel. This organization partners with volunteers, along with private or commercial transportation providers. To find out if you are eligible for this service, you can find more information online at mercymedical.org .
NeedyMeds lists programs that can help with medical transportation services or travel expenses for people that have no other ways to pay.
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.
Some government programs help with food or food costs for low-income people. The programs listed below are from the US Department of Agriculture (although some are run by states) for different groups of people, and offer food help in different ways. Some families may qualify for more than one type of help. For more information about these programs, call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-348-6479 (1-866-3-HUNGRY); for Spanish, call 1-877-842-6273. Or visit www.networks.whyhunger.org.
Formerly the Food Stamp Program, SNAP is the best known one. It allows people to shop for food in grocery stores using a special Electronic Benefits Transfer card, much like a bank card.
To ask about SNAP by phone, call your state or local health department or social services department, or call 1-800-221-5689 to get the local number.
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. Contact Meals on Wheels at 888-998-6325 or visit their website at www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org.
Before beginning treatment for certain types of cancer, your cancer doctor may tell you that you need to be seen by a dentist. Needed dental care might vary from an exam and cleaning to extraction of teeth that are not healthy. If you don’t have dental insurance or your insurance only covers a limited amount, you may need to look for other resources in your community.
NeedyMeds has a database of dental clinics that offer free, low cost, low cost based on income or other financial assistance.
For more help with finding or paying for the dental services you need in your area, see if your cancer center or cancer doctor has a social worker or navigator that could help direct you to local resources.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a grant program for people with low incomes. It provides monthly cash to help pay for food, clothing, housing, utilities, transportation, phone, medical supplies not covered by Medicaid, and other basic needs . (TANF also helps states provide training and jobs for the people in welfare programs.) A social worker can tell you about your state’s plan, or contact your local health or social services department. You can visit them online at https://www.hhs.gov/answers/programs-for-families-and-children/what-is-tanf/index.htm.
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 to learn more about 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 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. If you don’t have Internet access, you may want to see if your local public library offers use of their computers and Internet access at no cost. An added benefit is that volunteers or staff there may be able to help if you’re having trouble finding things.
Still, you don’t need Internet access to find help. The American Cancer Society and many other organizations also provide toll-free phone numbers so that people without Internet access can learn about and ask for services.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Healthcare Hospitality Network
Meals on Wheels
Toll-free number: 1-888-998-6325
National Aging and Disability Transportation Center/Eldercare Locator
Toll-free number: 1-800-677-1116
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
National Hunger Hotline
Toll-free number: 1-866-348-6479 (1-866-3-HUNGRY)
for Spanish, call 1-877-842-6273
Ronald McDonald House
Telephone number: 630-623-7048
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
United Way of America and the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems . Call 211 to find out if help is available in your area|
The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC)
Toll-free number: 1-888-641-8722
Healthcare Hospitality Network (HHN). Find lodging. Accessed at https://www.hhnetwork.org/find-lodging#/ on May 3, 2019.
Health and Human Services (HHS). What is TANF? Accessed at https://www.hhs.gov/answers/programs-for-families-and-children/what-is-tanf/index.html on May 3, 2019.
Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Financial support. Accessed at https://www.lls.org/support/financial-support on May 3, 2019.
Meals on Wheels America. Meals on wheels and healthcare. Accessed at https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/learn-more/what-we-deliver/meals-on-wheels-health on April 24, 2019.
Mercy Medical Angels. Request assistance. Accessed at https://mercymedical.org/request-assistance/ on May 3, 2019.
National Aging and Disability Transportation Center. Aging and Disability Transportation Overview. Nadtc.org. Accessed at https://www.nadtc.org/aging-and-disability-transportation-overview/ on September 23, 2021.
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a). Health insurance assistance. Accessed at https://www.n4a.org/healthinsurance on April 24, 2019.
Ronald McDonald House (RMHC). Ronald McDonald House. Accessed at https://www.rmhc.org/ronald-mcdonald-house on April 24, 2019.
United Way (2-1-1). How we help. Accessed at http://211.org/ on April 24, 2019.
US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Medicaid and you: frequently asked questions. Assessed at https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid-and-you/index.html on April 24, 2019.
WhyHunger(why). Resources: Find Food. Accessed at https://whyhunger.org/find-food/ on April 24, 2019.
Last Revised: March 3, 2023
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