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Cancer and the high cost of treatment

Published: October 15, 2018

An Out-of-Pocket Nightmare: Cancer and the High Cost of Treatment

A terminal cancer diagnosis is a terrible shock, a devastating emotional blow that leaves you wondering how long you have left and what will happen to loved ones when you’re gone. The high out-of-pocket expense that comes with cancer treatment is often the next terrible shock many people receive.

It comes as a shock because patients often assume their health insurance will cover treatment and, while insurance helps, there are coverage gaps that leave you on the receiving end of a large bill. Patients with limited resources are left to figure out how to pay for it all, and it isn’t easy, but there are options that can help mitigate some of the cost, so it’s important to know all available options if personal income, investments and other financial assets aren’t enough to pay the bills.

Treatment expenses

As a cancer patient, you’ll be administered blood and urine tests as well as biopsies, and there will be provider visits. You can expect costs associated with imaging tests as well as diagnosis and treatment procedures. Radiation and chemo therapies, as well as drugs used to alleviate some of the physical effects of those treatments, can add significantly to your end of the total cost. Then there’s surgery, the high cost of hospital stays and any follow-up care that might be necessary during recovery from surgery or treatments. In general, hospitals and providers are willing to work with you to help relieve some of the financial pressure, but ultimately you’re responsible for whatever insurance won’t cover.

Know which doctors and hospitals are in your network and learn the specifics of your health insurance policy. Stay in contact with your insurance company because you’ll have plenty of questions as you go through treatment. Always keep paperwork and documents concerning treatment in case any claims are denied.

Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage plans are a kind of private health insurance that provide the same coverage as Medicare Part A and Part B. The plans can include coverage for medical prescriptions, dental and vision care, all of which can come in handy after rigorous cancer treatment. Do your research ahead of time so that you select the right plan for your particular needs, and beware that the open enrollment period runs for less than two months (from October 15 to December 7).

HSAs and FSAs

If you’re left owing thousands of dollars, it’s necessary to consider every possible financial resource. If you don’t have a lot of money in a savings account, check with your employer about using a health savings account (HSA) or flexible savings account (FSA). Be aware that HSAs, which are tax-deductible, can only be used with high-deductible insurance plans, meaning you’ll pay a considerable out-of-pocket amount. In addition, the money you’ve put into an HSA does not expire. However, any money in an FSA will expire if not used by the end of the year.


Many cancer patients who lack funds or other personal options have to seek a personal loan, though the amount and terms (i.e. interest rate) will depend on your credit rating. An unsecured personal loan is not linked to any physical assets, though it may be necessary to offer collateral, such as your home, in order to secure a loan under certain circumstances.

Life insurance policy

Many patients are unaware that a life insurance policy can be sold to free up revenue for medical care expenses during cancer treatment. If you qualify, you can sell your policy to a third party or seek a loan from your insurer based on the value of the policy. 

It’s difficult to think clearly after a cancer diagnosis. You have a thousand questions and fears that need to be addressed. One thing you can depend on is that you will need some source of money to help pay for your treatment. Talk to your health care provider about treatments and expenses so you have some idea of the cost involved and what you may need to do to cover those expenses.


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