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The Hidden Costs of Chemo



Hello friends. Today I’d like to share an article that I wrote which was recently published on about the hidden costs of chemotherapy. If you have just found out that you need treatment, we hope that we can help you navigate through the unexpected costs and give you some resources to ease the strain.

You have found out that you need chemotherapy. Your doctor has already explained the procedure, the protocol you will be taking and the timeframe. But what they probably haven’t told you about is the financial impact chemo will have on your life.  Not just medically, but also how it will affect your home life, livelihood and your loved ones.

You are most likely already overwhelmed with all of the decisions that you have to make, but there are many ways to get help during the long road ahead of you. Typical costs incurred during chemotherapy include co-pays, hospital bills, prescriptions and loss of pay from time off from work. 

Here are a few recommendations and resources:

– What happens to your JOB when you are unable to work because of chemo? Many people continue to work during their chemo treatments with a flexible or reduced schedule. Check with your employer to see what programs are offered to you in terms of medical leaves of absence.  You may be able to go on disability or take unused sick time or even vacation days.  Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act, you AND your spouse may take protected time off from work due to a serious health condition. 

– HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNTS (HSA) or FLEXIBLE SPENDING ACCOUNTS (FSAs)  are valuable resources if you know you will have high medical expenses for the following year. “I ended up having 67 doctor visits from diagnosis to the end of the year during my first year of treatment for breast cancer, including chemo,” said survivor Juannelle Miller. “I had 33 more visits for radiation. The co-pays for all of those appointments really added up, even though my insurance covered the majority of the costs.” If your employer offers a Health Savings Account, you can contribute pre-tax dollars towards unexpected or expected costs (perhaps the amount of your deductible). Check with your employer, as some HAS’s have triple tax advantages: 1) no taxes on contributions 2) no taxes when funds are used for eligible expenses and 3) no taxes on any interest earned on the balance.

– There are ways to reduce your HOSPITAL BILLS. If you don’t have insurance, check with your hospital’s finance office and ask about their Charitable Care programs. If you qualify, they could “forgive” a fair percentage or possibly most of your treatment costs.  And if you pay cash, fees are generally a lesser charge than what your insurance company is billed. You pay the hospital and your insurance reimburses you directly.

– MEDICATIONS can be prohibitively expensive. There are ways to lower the costs of your meds. Check with your doctor on the prescriptions that you will have to take during and after your treatment. Some meds could be expensive even with insurance. Consult your doctor or hospital finance team to see if there is a generic or similar drug that you can take that is less expensive. Also, there are many non-profits, cancer organizations and local community professional groups that can give aid for medicine, like Did you know that your doctor can write you a prescription for a wig that will generally be paid for by your insurance? Most are totally covered, some partially but this is a cost that you do not have to incur all by yourself. Finally, it might be possible to join a clinical trial that is testing new drugs. This is valuable for two reasons: 1) You have access to free medication that could help your condition and 2) the findings from the trial may create a new drug that can help generations to come. If you don’t have prescription drug coverage, check with the Partnership for Prescription Assistance to see if you qualify for their assistance programs or the HealthWell Foundation.

There are also costs associated with other aspects of treatment that you might not have considered, including transportation and lodging, childcare and meals:

– The longer you have chemotherapy, unfortunately, the worse you are likely to feel.  Your medical team may administer drugs to help you combat the side effects of chemo that will impair your ability to drive. TRANSPORTATION options include checking with your hospital team to see if they offer or work with any services that can help get you to and from treatment. Also, there are many cancer organizations that assist with transportation at little to no cost to the patient. Something to keep in mind – the doctor may want you to come back the day AFTER you have had chemo for additional medications, so you may need a ride the next day, too.  Check with the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program for more information. 

– If you don’t live near your clinic, you may need a HOTEL nearby while you are having treatment.  The American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodges is a free place to stay for patients and caregivers and they are located throughout the U.S. Go to’s resource page to find out what is available near you. 

– Many treatment programs provide for CHILDCARE, as do charity organizations or local community groups. If you need help with childcare while you are having treatment, check with your church group, the local high school, cancer care programs in your area or local volunteer groups. The Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition can assist you with finding an organization in your area that may be able to help. 

– There are several programs like “Meals to Heal” that can arrange for MEALS to be delivered to your home, provided by family and friends.  Often, concerned loved ones, neighbors and co-workers will all volunteer to bring food to the family. “Take Them A Meal” and “Meal Train” are experts in organizing the support team so that there is a consistent schedule of meals for the patient and their family. There are also services for delivering groceries, from Amazon Fresh to your local Safeway. 

File these topics under the “Things You Didn’t Know” section and likely would not explore if you did not know that they could be helpful to you: 

– Are you or your loved one a MILITARY VETERAN? Your local Veteran’s Health Administration association may be able to guide you towards assistance you didn’t know was available to you. “The VA covered 100% of my husband’s cancer care as a disabled veteran,” said Jane Martin. “You may be able to get partial or full coverage for your care depending on your situation, so it’s completely worthwhile to check and see if you qualify.”

– Find out if your health insurance provides CASEWORKERS or PATIENT ADVOCATES. These invaluable representatives can minimize your stress about incorrect charges, billing issues and other errors. You authorize them to speak on your behalf, and they can handle the drama for you. Generally, caseworkers also have an oncological background and can advise you on everything from how your treatment may affect you to how to ease side effects. You need to focus on getting better. Let them answer your questions and spend hours on the phone sorting things out so that you can rest and heal.  If your insurance does not provide caseworkers, check with the Patient Advocate Foundation for more information on their programs. 

Find out more at or ask your doctor for additional information. There are all sorts of resources and organizations out there that can provide assistance where you need it most. You just have to know where to look for it.









Military Assistance:

Patient Advocates: 

General Resource for Patients and Caregivers: