Programs and Resources to Help With Cancer-related Expenses
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 advice, there’s no substitute for a social worker who works with your community and knows it well. Find one through your cancer doctor or nurse.
Cancer costs can increase for many reasons such as:
- If cancer treatment is extended or changed
- If complications develop
- If the cancer comes back
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 and After 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 the some of the costs related to cancer treatment.
Help with short-term housing near the cancer treatment center
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 call 1-800-542-9730 or check online at www.hhnetwork.org to see if there’s a location that works for you.
Many treatment centers also have other short-term housing possibilities or discount arrangements with nearby motels and hotels. The clinic social worker or oncology nurse may have ideas for low-cost housing during hospital or clinic treatment.
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.
Help with housing needs or mortgage payments when you have cancer
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.
Help with air travel or transport for cancer care
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 with cancer 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.
Help with driving and ground transportation costs when you have cancer
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.
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.
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 look on www.lls.org.
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.
Help with food costs
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.whyhunger.org/findfood.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP
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.
Food distribution programs (these programs distribute food directly to needy families):
- Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)
- The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
Voucher and coupon programs
These programs, such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC, for pregnant women, infants, and children) include access to fresh foods for families and senior citizens:
- Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
- Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
School meals (served to children only in schools)
- National School Lunch Program
- Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program
- School Breakfast Program
- Special Milk Program
- Team Nutrition
- Summer Food Service Program (meals for kids at community sites when school’s out)
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. Contact Meals on Wheels at 888-998-6325 or visit their website at www.mowaa.org.
Help with other expenses
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 or call 1-877-696-6775 for the local number. You can visit them online if you start at www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/help.
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 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 also want to call the American Cancer Society to find out about other local sources of help with telephone service.
Help with 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. 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.
More information from your American Cancer Society
We have a lot more information that may also be helpful to you. Many can be read online at www.cancer.org, or call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345. We’re here to help you any time, day or night.
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging offices in many areas can offer some kinds of help to older people with cancer. Call 1-800-677-1116 for the Eldercare Locator to learn what’s in your area, and if you might be able to get help. You can also check online at www.n4a.org.
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 if help is available in your area, or visit them online at www.211.org.
Last Medical Review: November 19, 2015 Last Revised: March 1, 2016