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How To Get Leukemia Treatment Without Insurance

Posted on December 03, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Todd Gersten, M.D.
Article written by
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H.

Dealing with the treatment costs of leukemia can be difficult whether or not you have health insurance. Services like inpatient hospital stays, surgery, radiology, anticancer therapies, and bone marrow transplants can amount to thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket health care costs even if you have a good health insurance plan.

Although a leukemia diagnosis may present a huge financial burden, there are different programs in the United States to help uninsured people with the cost of leukemia care. Insurance plans, hospital-based programs, patient assistance programs, and other financial assistance programs help cover both direct and indirect costs of treatment for different types of leukemia.

Health insurance premiums, deductibles, and copays may seem unaffordable, but navigating leukemia care without insurance will be a much higher expense. This article discusses financial resources for leukemia care if you’re uninsured and options for health insurance coverage.

Enroll in a Health Insurance Plan

Consider your health insurance options when planning your finances for leukemia care. Although health insurance plans may seem expensive, health care providers and hospitals work with insurance companies to make coverage more affordable, and so it will help you to pay less for care in the long run.

There are several public and private health insurance programs that can help reduce your out-of-pocket medical costs.

Public Insurance Programs

Public health insurance programs include the following:

  • Medicaid — For individuals with a low income, families, and children
  • Medicare — For adults over 65 and individuals who receive Social Security disability benefits
  • Social Security Administration disability benefits (through Medicare) — For those who have worked jobs that paid into Social Security and cannot currently work due to leukemia. Two types of leukemia (acute leukemia and chronic myelogenous leukemia blast phase) are considered to be compassionate allowances. Having a severe condition that is included on the compassionate allowances list will help you to get Social Security Administration benefits more quickly if you qualify.
  • Children’s Health Insurance Plan — For children and families that earn too much money to be on Medicaid.

Private Insurance Programs

If you do not qualify for a public health insurance program, there are several options for private health insurance:

  • Employer-based health insurance may be available through your job if you or your spouse are employed.
  • COBRA allows you to continue health care coverage from your former employer if you leave or lose your job. Ask your former employer’s human resources department about this program.
  • If you’re a student, check if your school or university offers health insurance plans.
  • If you are a military veteran, you may qualify for health care benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • You may buy health insurance through your state’s marketplace or exchange at healthcare.gov. You must enroll during the open enrollment period, which is usually around November to January 15.
  • You may purchase health insurance directly from a health insurance company, but this is likely the most expensive selection.

Save Money on Medications Without Insurance

If you absolutely cannot get health insurance coverage, there are different ways and programs to help you afford medications and medical services. Consider some of these tips for lowering the costs of your medications:

  • Ask your doctor if the type of medication affects the cost. Sometimes, different types of medication, for example, an oral medication versus an injection, will differ in price.
  • Ask your doctor about generic alternatives. Generic medications historically cost less than brand names.
  • Ask your doctor if they have samples of your prescription medications that they could give to you.
  • Online pharmacies may offer lower prices, but it’s important to first check the legitimacy of an online pharmacy before purchasing any products from them. Look for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites Seal, also known as the VIPPS Seal, to confirm whether an online pharmacy is legitimate.
  • Shop around. Different pharmacies may provide the same drug for lower prices. Search online or call pharmacies to ask about the prices of your prescribed drugs and order from the pharmacy with the least expensive option.
  • Check if there are any pharmaceutical assistance programs for your leukemia medications. These programs are offered by drug manufacturers and provide discounts on drug prices. To find programs, search the name of your drug plus patient assistance program on Google, or review the chart here from Triage Cancer.
  • Review NeedyMeds, a nonprofit organization that provides resources for affording prescription drugs for many different diagnoses. Read their list of assistance programs for leukemia here. Their website also offers a list of state-sponsored programs that help with financial assistance for medications.
  • Use the PhRMA’s Medicine Assistance Tool, which matches insured and uninsured people with resources for affording medications.

Discuss Your Financial Situation With Your Hospital or Cancer Clinic

If you are uninsured and have trouble paying a medical bill, try meeting in person with someone from the hospital or the financial office of the clinic where you received treatment. Explain your situation and ask if they can offer any of the following assistive options:

  • Hospital or treatment center funding
  • Charity care
  • Discounts similar to those provided through Medicare
  • Payment plans

Hospitals that are Hill-Burton Facilities are obligated to help provide free or low-cost medical services to people who cannot afford them. Check this list to find a Hill-Burton hospital near you.

Consult an Oncology Social Worker

Oncology social workers, patient navigators, and financial counselors can help you navigate resources for affording leukemia treatment without insurance. They will know of different ways to save money on care and assistance programs that you may be eligible for.

Oncology social workers will also know of local city and county-based medical aid options for low-income and uninsured people. If you have trouble locating a social worker, CancerCare offers oncology social workers that you can contact at 800-813-4673.

Consider a Clinical Trial

Clinical trials could be an option for accessing free or low-cost leukemia treatment if you’re uninsured. Clinical trials are research studies that examine the efficacy of new drugs and procedures. Clinical trials may also assess existing drugs used in new conditions or new combinations. Ask your doctor about your eligibility for participation in a clinical trial. The National Cancer Institute offers a list of upcoming or current clinical trials for different types of leukemia treatment.

Although a clinical trial participant may not have to pay for the actual treatment costs, there may be other costs of taking part in a clinical trial like doctor visits and transportation that would be difficult to afford if you’re uninsured. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society offers a list of resources for covering costs associated with a clinical trial.

Explore Financial Assistance Resources

There are additional resources and programs to review if you’re uninsured and need assistance covering the expenses of leukemia care. Some resources for leukemia and general cancer assistance are listed below. The National Cancer Institute also offers a list of support organizations.

Affording Indirect Expenses of Leukemia Care

In addition to financial resources for the medical expenses of leukemia, there are resources to help with nonmedical expenses, like those for transportation and lodging, childcare, mortgages, and food. The American Cancer Society offers more information about these resources.

Get Support From Others Who Understand

Talking to other people who understand what you are going through can be a great source of emotional support.

MyLeukemiaTeam is the social network for people with leukemia. On MyLeukemiaTeam, more than 9,600 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with leukemia.

Are you uninsured and living with leukemia? Have you had success getting help with your medical care costs? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H. is an Associate Editor at MyHealthTeam. She holds a Master's in Public Health from Columbia University and is passionate about spreading accurate, evidence-based health information. Learn more about her here.

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