If you have ovarian cancer, you may be worried about your diagnosis and prognosis. But there’s something else that may keep you up at night -- the cost of treatment. Not only is medical care expensive, you may be even more cash-strapped because you can’t work, and have other hidden costs like paying for child care while you have your treatments.
Here’s a look at how costs can add up, as well as ways to make your cancer journey more affordable.
The average cost of care during the first year of treatment is almost $100,000. Most patients have to pay about 3% (around $3,000) of that themselves. About a third of these costs come within the first month of treatment, with the bulk of the rest of the cost occurring in the next 5 months. This includes:
- Outpatient services like chemotherapy ($52,700)
- Inpatient services such as surgery and hospitalization after surgery ($30,708)
- Pharmacy costs ($1,814)
Your treatment may cost even more depending on what type of drug your doctor puts you on. If your ovarian cancer recurs, or if you have certain types of ovarian cancer, your medical team may recommend a class of drugs known as PARP inhibitors. These work very well, but they can be very expensive. The average out-of-pocket cost is about $305 a month, and most patients need to take them for about 3 months.
The costs of ovarian cancer go beyond those just for medical care. If you have ovarian cancer, you may have to miss time at work or may not be able to work for a while. Research shows that people who work and who get cancer treatments such as chemotherapy miss about 22 more workdays a year than noncancer patients. If you can’t work, you not only lose income, but you may also lose your work-based health insurance. You’ll then need to pay your own premium.
In fact, one study found that work loss costs were anywhere from two to four times higher for patients with ovarian cancer who took medical or disability leave after they began chemotherapy. Patients who took short-term disability, for example, reported that they lost about $335 in work income a month over 12 months, compared with $45 among women without ovarian cancer.
How to Find Help
If you struggle to pay either direct treatment costs or indirect costs such as food or rent, the following programs may help:
- The Social Security Administration (SSA) Compassionate Allowances program. If your ovarian cancer is very advanced -- which means it has spread to organs throughout your body or can’t be operated on -- you may qualify for Social Security Disability income in a matter of days or weeks.
- A compassionate use program. Many drug companies have programs that provide medication free of charge for patients in need. Other websites such as NeedyMeds (https://www.needymeds.org) or the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (https://www.pparx.org/) provide information about other drug assistance programs.
- Patient Access Network (PAN) Foundation. (https://www.panfoundation.org/ovarian-cancer). The PAN Foundation provides up to $3,500 a year in copayment assistance annually to ovarian cancer patients who live in the United States who are enrolled in Medicare and have incomes up to 500% of the federal poverty level.
- CancerCare (https://www.cancercare.org) offers limited assistance for transportation, home care and child care for women who qualify. They may also cover certain pain, and anti-nausea medications. Call 800-813-HOPE (4673) to apply.
In addition, it’s wise to take the following steps:
Let your creditors know. If you can’t pay all your bills, address the problem head-on. You may be able to negotiate with your creditors. A credit counseling service may also be able to set up a payment plan.
Get professional help. An oncology social worker, either through your hospital or via CancerCare, can help you find local resources to provide assistance.
Create a strict budget. It’s very important that you know exactly what you spend each month right now, and how much income you bring in. Contact your utility providers and your mortgage company to find out if you can set up a temporary payment plan.
A financial advisor can also help you figure out how you can either bring in more money or cut back on spending, at least for a short while. You may also have assets like your retirement plan that you can tap into to get cash.
Tackle medical debt. If you can’t afford the cost of any care not covered by insurance, ask the hospital or medical center if they’ll consider the insurance payment as the full payment. This works more often than you might think. You can also ask the center to lower your bill. There may also be hospital funding to cover any health care costs not covered by insurance.