Beating the Odds against cancer bills

6:49 PM, Dec 18, 2012   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) - Paying for cancer treatments can be a difficult part of a cancer journey, but there are some ways you can get help affording those life saving therapies.

Brenda Payne's breast cancer diagnosis left her with an uncertain future, "Right from the beginning they felt that I was going to need surgery and chemotherapy and radiation." It was an uncertain future not just of her physical health but of her financial health as well, "We just kind of assumed that catastrophic covered everything and it didn't."

Brenda's insurance policy had a limit on outpatient services and Brenda would need several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation that would cost over $20,000 out of pocket.

She and her husband Bruce were recently laid off and had no idea how they would pay for Brenda's treatments, "For a while there we thought our life was over for the way we knew it.", says Bruce.

Fortunately Saint Mary's Health Care in Grand Rapids had a plan.

Dan Sherman is a financial navigator. He helps cancer patients find financial support, "There are programs out there that will help with the large out of pocket responsibility that some patients have." A job he says has become a necessary part of planning cancer treatment, "Over the last 10 years there's been a huge shift of the financial burden being transferred to the patient versus the insurance provider."

His first step is to look at the patient's insurance coverage. If they don't have any, that's were the new Affordable Health Care Act comes in. As part of it the state developed the health insurance program for Michigan called Hipmichigan. 

Hipmichigan is an insurance policy that accepts patients with pre-existing conditions and has a sliding scale for monthly premiums depending on age and income. The highest premium is $500 a month.

There are also grant programs than can give up to $10,000 a year to cover out of pocket expenses, "Most individuals are going to quality for some level of assistance if that's assistance from the hospital of or assistance from foundations for individuals who are diagnosed with cancer.", says Sherman.

The Patient Access Network is one of those foundations. Grant money for dozens of cancers is available and Sherman says you would be surprised who qualifies, "There are programs out there that require that you make less than $100,000 a year in order to qualify for their programs."

Dan Sherman's job is to make sure patients are covered so they can concentrate on beating their cancer diagnosis, "We don't want patients to be making medical decisions based on financial hardship especially when there are tools in place to help those individuals."

He was able to help Brenda and Bruce beat the financial odds they had against them, "We got a bill sometime this summer that said your total bills for this period is $25,000 plus. The total amount that you owe us is $666."

And now a year later they can celebrate having a healthy life together on what will soon be their fifth wedding anniversary.

Both Spectrum Health and Metro Health have similiar programs that provide assistance in paying for cancer treatments. Most hospitals do so be sure to ask about financial help if you find yourself in need.

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