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How To Get Breast Cancer Treatment Without Insurance

Posted on December 13, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Mark Levin, M.D.
Article written by
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women in the United States. It is also the most expensive type of cancer to treat. Factors like regular screenings (every two years for women ages 50 to 74 with an average risk of breast cancer) and enrollment in health insurance can help save money when it comes to breast cancer treatment.

The cost of treating breast cancer can amount to tens of thousands of dollars, and the least expensive breast cancer treatment — for someone with insurance coverage diagnosed in the early stages of disease — may cost up to $6,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.

“Being uninsured and unable to get cancer care has been overwhelming,” wrote a MyBCTeam member.

Fortunately, there are many programs in the United States to help with the cost of breast cancer care. Insurance programs, hospital-based programs, patient assistance programs, and other financial assistance programs help cover treatment costs like medications, doctor visits, scans, radiation, and chemotherapy. These programs also help with indirect costs like transportation and lodging for treatments.

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

Options for Health Insurance Coverage

Consider your health insurance options when planning your finances for breast cancer care. Although health insurance can be 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

Medicaid is a state-based public program that provides health insurance for those with low income. Medicare is the national health insurance program available to adults over 65 years old and to individuals who receive Social Security disability benefits.

A program called the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program helps women who are uninsured and those with a low income gain access to mammograms and breast cancer treatment. Women diagnosed with breast cancer through this program can receive treatment through Medicaid. Emergency Medicaid can be obtained in some states for six months to provide an opportunity to obtain permanent Medicaid or other insurance. Read more about this program on their website.

If you have worked jobs for which you paid into Social Security and cannot currently work due to breast cancer, you may qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. Although an application may take months to process, severe and inoperable types of breast cancer qualify for something called a compassionate allowance, which speeds up the process of receiving Social Security Administration benefits. If you are approved, you will be eligible to apply for Medicare even if you are younger than 65.

You can review details about eligibility and enrollment on the Social Security website and learn more about Medicare from the Medicare website.

Private Insurance Programs

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

  • You may qualify for health insurance through your job if you or your spouse are employed.
  • If you have recently lost your job, you may qualify for a program called COBRA, which allows you to continue health care coverage from your former employer for a period of time. 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 Jan. 15.
  • You may purchase health insurance directly from a health insurance company, but this is likely the most expensive option.

Ways To Lower Medication Costs

If you absolutely cannot get health insurance, there are resources to help lower the medical expenses of breast cancer treatment. Programs differ by the type of care or services they offer.

Consider some of these tips for lowering the costs of your medications:

  • Ask your doctor if the type of medication affects the cost. Different types of medication, for example, an oral medication versus an intravenous injection, will sometimes differ in price.
  • Ask your doctor about generic alternatives. Generic medications historically cost less than brand names.
  • Ask for samples of your prescribed medications. Your doctor may have samples of medications in supply and they may be able to offer them to you free of charge.
  • Check online pharmacies, as they may offer lower prices. 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 (or VIPPS) Seal to confirm whether an online pharmacy is legitimate.
  • Shop around, as 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.

Medication Assistance Programs

Different programs help provide access to low-cost or free prescription drugs. They all have different qualifications, so review each program to find the ones you may be eligible for.

  • Patient assistance programs are financial assistance programs for drugs offered directly by drug manufacturers. Explore patient assistance programs for approved breast cancer therapies on the Breastcancer.org website.
  • RxAssist Patient Assistance Program Center is a resource that provides information and a comprehensive directory of available patient assistance programs for all diseases.
  • NeedyMeds is a nonprofit that provides information and resources for affording prescription drugs, including assistance programs for breast cancer. The website also offers a list of state-sponsored programs that help with financial assistance for medications.
  • PhRMA’s Medicine Assistance Tool matches insured and uninsured people with resources for affording medications.

Some members of MyBreastCancerTeam discuss using patient assistance programs to help with the costs of medications. “I was able to get approved for Pfizer’s program for the underinsured. I will get my meds for free from now on,” wrote one member.

Consult Your Care Team

Your cancer care team and hospital workers are a great resource to help make your treatments more affordable. Try meeting in person with someone in the office or hospital that sent you the bill. Explain your financial situation and ask about the following options to help you pay medical bills:

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

Hospital Resources

Hospital-based oncology social workers, patient navigators, or financial counselors can typically help you navigate all of the financial resources available for your treatment. They may know ways to save money on care, like scheduling multiple treatments at the same time to save on inpatient and outpatient visit costs. Consult your doctor, hospital, or cancer clinic for these resources.

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 for a Hill-Burton hospital near you. Furthermore, many local municipalities around the country have the resources to provide medical aid for residents of their cities or counties. An oncology social worker can help you find these opportunities.

If you have trouble locating a social worker at your hospital or clinic, CancerCare offers oncology social workers that you can contact at 800-813-4673.

Other Resources for Affording Breast Cancer Care

Additional resources that offer or can help you locate financial assistance for breast cancer treatment include:

  • The Susan G. Komen Foundation offers a Treatment Assistance Program for women currently in breast cancer treatment. Read about the program and check your eligibility on their website.
  • The American Life Fund offers financial assistance to women with gynecologic cancers.
  • CancerCare’s Co-Payment Assistance Foundation helps cover the costs of copayments for cancer care.
  • FundFinder is a web-based app developed by the Patient Access Network Foundation. It notifies you when financial assistance (for medications, doctor visits, travel expenses, and insurance premiums) from charitable organizations becomes available.
  • BenefitsCheckUp is a free service for seniors to search for benefits programs that help in covering a range of expenses, from health care to housing.

Affording Indirect Expenses of Breast Cancer Care

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

Consider a Clinical Trial

Clinical trials could be an option for accessing free or low-cost breast cancer treatment if you’re uninsured. Clinical trials are research studies that examine the efficacy of new drugs and procedures. 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 breast cancer treatment.

“I’m in a clinical trial now ... my second one. There are all kinds of trials with different criteria. Talk to your doctor so they can put your name and information out there for the trial recruiters to see,” wrote a MyBCTeam member.

Get Support From Others Who Understand

MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer. On MyBCTeam, more than 54,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.

Are you uninsured and living with breast cancer? 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.
Mark Levin, M.D. is a hematology and oncology specialist with over 37 years of experience in internal medicine. 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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