One of the most common causes of stress after a cancer diagnosis is determining how to obtain affordable health insurance with cancer. Fighting cancer is one of the most difficult battles anyone can face. Unfortunately, dealing with health insurance is often a significant part of that battle.
How to Obtain Affordable Health Insurance With Cancer
Survivors of cancer often have a great deal of difficulty finding health care insurance later on in life. The difficulties vary depending on whether or not they already had health insurance when they were diagnosed with cancer, income level, age, and many other factors.
Getting Diagnosed With Cancer, Will I Lose My Insurance?
According to a 2008 study by the American Cancer Society, researchers found that having private health insurance, rather than federally-funded Medicaid, can greatly increase your chances of detecting cancer early and therefore receiving successful treatment. If you have high cancer risk in your family, do your very best to obtain work that has health insurance coverage, or make sure you sign up with your own private health insurance when you're healthy.
HIPPA: Insured Before Diagnosis
Why is it so important to have health insurance before being diagnosed? The obvious answer is because having health insurance will pay most of the bills. But another answer is related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) which protects anyone who has maintained health insurance for at least 12 months from losing coverage, even if they change jobs. A significant benefit of the Act is that you are still protected by the Act, even if you've left your last job, or you've lost coverage for some other reason.
HIPPA: Uninsured Before Diagnosis
Were you uninsured before you were diagnosed with cancer? Don't lose hope. The Act still protects you. If you are a cancer survivor and you obtain a new job where group insurance is offered, the HIPAA act prevents health insurers from using the "pre-existing condition" exclusion for a condition that took place beyond 12 months. Have you been cancer-free for over a year? This Act says you have the same rights to group health insurance as everyone else.
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget and Reconciliation Act of 1986 protects people who are already insured when they get diagnosed. COBRA protects workers from losing health insurance coverage if they have to temporarily stop working or reduce work hours due to a number of circumstances; illness is only one of them. COBRA provides that you must be provided with the same coverage for 18 to 36 months depending on circumstances. While premiums may be more expensive, health insurance coverage levels cannot change.
Affordable Insurance Options for Cancer Patients
Even if you have never been insured, you've been unemployed for a long time, and you're in the process of fighting cancer, there are options available to you to obtain coverage. It isn't easy, and in some cases there's no way to avoid paying more for the insurance, but ultimately there are options open to you:
- Private Health Insurance: If money is no object, you may consider looking for a private health insurance. Many private health insurance plans that are available do not have a pre-existing condition exclusion and require no health screening. However, for that reason, these plans are usually very expensive. Contact a local insurance broker, they will have access to health insurance plans, and you may potentially qualify for group insurance plans that you aren't aware of, such as fraternal or professional organizations of which you are a member.
- Medicaid or Medicare: If you have limited income, you may be eligible for Medicaid. Depending on your age, income, or disability status, you may qualify to have Medicaid pay your health care providers, and you will only be asked cover co-payments for some services. Even if you don't think you would qualify, it's a good idea to apply. Many people think they wouldn't qualify even when they do. Denied once? Always ask for a second review. If you are terminally ill or unable to work (receiving disability payments) for over 29 months, you may qualify for Medicare. Contact the Department of Health & Human Services for more information.
- Veteran's Benefits: Are you a veteran? The Department of Veteran's Affairs provides a medical benefits package. Anyone who has served in the active military, the Reserve or National Guard called to active duty, or other veterans who may not have served in combat, are all potentially eligible for the medical plan. Contact the VA for more information.
- State Plans: Many states offer individual health plans, or state-subsidized health insurance plans for low-income residents.
- Your Hospital: The hospital where you're receiving services may receive federal funding in order to offer services to patients who can't afford to pay. This coverage is known as "Hill-Burton coverage," because listed Hill-Burton facilities who receive these funds are obligated to offer free or low-cost care to low-income patients. Check the list of Hill-Burton facilities to see if your hospital is on the list.
Help is Available
A cancer diagnosis can feel overwhelming and terribly scary. The last thing patients want to have to worry about is how to find affordable health insurance with cancer, or worry about becoming a "burden." No cancer patient should feel that way, and there are organizations and groups who can talk to you and help you understand that you aren't tackling this disease alone. Wonderful organizations are available to help cancer patients and cancer survivors with these issues, including the Patient Advocate Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship and CancerCare. The following articles provide additional health insurance resources: