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Offsetting the “Hidden Costs” of Breast Cancer

Updated October 3, 2013

The cost of breast cancer doesn’t end with your medical bills. Your daily living expenses may be more challenging to cover as your medical bills increase, and time away from work for appointments and transportation and parking costs add up. Many women find that their monthly and daily living expenses – for food, mortgage, rent and utilities – must compete with their health care costs.

Thinking about these “hidden costs” ahead of time will help you avoid some of the fear and frustration that financial instability can cause. Figuring out your monthly income, how much you spend and what you spend it on can help you decide if and where you can cut back. If you suspect you’ll come up short, you can take steps to get help.

Paying Your Bills On Time

Paying your bills on time may be difficult, but your creditors may be more helpful than you expect.

  • Ask creditors if you can work out a payment plan. For help negotiating with creditors or making a debt management plan, contact an accredited, nonprofit credit counseling service like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
  • Contact your mortgage lender to work out new payment arrangements like a second mortgage, a reverse mortgage or a home equity loan.  Make sure that you consult with a financial advisor, so that you fully understand these options before making any decisions.
  • Ask if you can get a disability waiver for some debts, such as your mortgage or car loan.
  • Always make a payment, even if it is small, to show your creditors that you’re trying to pay. “Good faith” payments can be the basis of working out a better agreement.
  • Call utility companies and let them know about your hardship. In some cases, they may lower your monthly fees or offer other assistance.
  • Find out if your insurance covers any indirect costs of treatment, like at home care, special foods, nutritional supplements or special equipment and attire (like lymphedema sleeves and wigs).
  • Find out if you can use your home or life insurance to get cash to support your medical needs.

Paying for Prescriptions

Prescription medicines often make up a large portion of medical expenses. If you have limited income or a health plan that has a high deductible or very high co-pays, covering treatment such as chemotherapy pills and anti-nausea medicine can become even more challenging. But many resources can help you pay for prescription medicines.

  • Ask your doctor about generic medicines or samples. Generic medicines are usually less expensive than brand name medicines, and samples will allow you to try a medicine before you buy the full prescription. Once a prescription is purchased, it can’t be returned.
  • Shop around. Some pharmacies charge less than others for the same prescription. Take the time to compare and find the best price. Consider mail-ordering several months of a prescription if the co-pay is lower.
  • Ask about over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Talk with your doctor about OTC medicines that will have the same effect as your prescription, and find out if they cost less.
  • Go to a local pharmacy. If your insurance allows you to use local pharmacies, you may save on co-pays.
  • Fill half of your prescription at a time. If you don’t have insurance or your health plan doesn’t cover prescriptions, filling only half of your prescription at a time may help you save on the up-front, out-of-pocket cost.
  • Use medicines on your insurer’s preferred drug list. Some health plans have a preferred drug list for prescription medicines, and those that are not on the list won’t be covered. Check to be sure your prescription is on the list, and if it’s not, ask your doctor if you can switch to medicines that are covered.
  • Contact your insurance case manager or the Patient Advocate Foundation. Both are sources that will help you figure out what information your doctor needs to submit to the insurance company to get your medicines covered.
  • Find out if you qualify for a Patient Assistance Program (PAP). PAPs provide discount or free medicines to those who qualify, and some will help you file an appeal with your insurance company to cover certain medicines. PAPs are available through state governments, charitable groups and some pharmaceutical companies. Your social worker, nurse or doctor should be able to find out if you qualify.  

Professionals who can Help

  • Your social worker can help you navigate your health insurance policy and recommend local organizations and resources available to you.
  • Your insurance case manager can tell you what information your doctors should submit to get your medicines and treatments covered.
  • An accountant or financial advisor can show you how to manage your money most effectively.

Support from Nonmedical Sources

  • Local organizations and community groups often have grants that can help breast cancer patients deal with transportation issues, by offering services or helping to pay for transportation costs. Others may be able to assist with meals, lodging, and special equipment like wigs and breast prostheses. Such organizations include:
  • Nonprofit, civic or church groups may sponsor local families who are facing long-term illnesses or other traumatic events by helping manage food and daily expenses.
  • Family and friends feel empowered when they are able to help, and having their help can decrease your anxiety and worry. Asking for help financially should not be a source of shame or discomfort. If you are not comfortable asking yourself, have a trusted point-person let others know that gift cards for food, gas or groceries would be helpful as you go through treatment.

Financial Planning Services

  • Ask a social worker or nurse at your hospital or cancer center to refer you to a nonprofit, government or other group that may be able to help you.
  • Get advice from an accountant, financial advisor or other professional. Accountants can help you save money on income taxes by deducting medical expenses. A financial advisor can help you protect your assets from creditors by setting up a trust, and show you how to take control of your assets and plan for the future.
  • Look for free or low-cost financial planning talks sponsored by organizations such as AARP or by investment management companies. 

Learn more about lead reviewer Joanna L. Fawzy Morales, Esq, and the other providers who helped us write this page in our  Guide to Understanding Financial Concerns, 1st ed., 2010.

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