While a cancer diagnosis is scary in the best of situations, it can be even more frightening to face cancer without health insurance coverage. You do have options, however, and excellent treatment is available to many.
If you do not have health insurance at the time of your diagnosis, private health insurance will likely be difficult to obtain after your diagnosis. If you are currently uninsured, but were covered under a group health insurance policy less than 63 days ago, it is wise to immediately check with your insurance company about whether you can sign up for COBRA or a HIPAA plan. If you’ve been uninsured for more than 63 days, your task will be more challenging. However, it can be done!
If you are worried that you or a loved one might have cancer, but you have not been able to obtain diagnostic tests, you can contact your local Department of Health for advice. Some states have free screening programs for certain types of cancer. The number for your local health department will be in the yellow pages of your phone book. You can also check to see if there is a “free clinic” in your area. The National Association of Free Clinics provides a listing at www.freeclinics.org.
If you or your loved one is a veteran, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) may be a resource for health care. To find out if you or a loved one is eligible for health care through the VA, you can contact the Enrollment Coordinator at your local VA health care facility. The number for the nearest VA Hospital should be in your local phone book.
If a symptom is life-threatening, you should go to a hospital emergency room. By law, anyone who goes to the emergency department requesting examination or treatment for a medical condition must be provided with appropriate care to determine if he or she is suffering from an emergent medical condition. If this is the case, then the hospital is obligated to either provide treatment until the patient is stable or to transfer the patient to another hospital.
If you or a loved one has already been diagnosed with cancer and is uninsured, ask to speak with an oncology social worker or financial counselor at the facility that provided the diagnosis. These individuals should be able to guide you through the process of obtaining treatment. Some who are uninsured are able to set up payment plans, or negotiate a discounted payment with the treating facility. Others may qualify for Medicaid, county medical care or hospital charity care. Depending on the state in which you live, you may also have access to a high-risk insurance pool.
It can feel overwhelming to face cancer without health insurance. Many without insurance are able to obtain excellent care, but it usually takes persistence and creativity.