Many us cancer patients juggle care along with financial pain – the mainichi anxiety chest pain relief

Money was already tight when doctors told the Phoenix resident she had an aggressive form of the disease. Then she took a pay cut after going on disability leave, and eventually lost her job and insurance coverage. During treatment, Rizo got swamped with more than $50,000 in medical bills.

As treatment costs soar and insurance coverage shrinks, hospitals and patient advocates around the U.S. are rushing to offer more help to patients like Rizo, who had no financial counseling. Cancer centers are hiring experts to help patients navigate the insurance system, while nonprofits are teaching people to think about handling costs when treatments starts instead of waiting for a financial crisis to hit.

We know a lot of very solidly middle class families, they were fine and then … their financial lives changed, said Jean Sachs, CEO of the nonprofit Living Beyond Breast Cancer.

They’re not prepared for the cost of cancer, let alone the care.

Insurers are tightening their prescription drug coverage and raising patient costs like deductibles as treatment prices soar. That means patients may have to pay several thousand dollars a year for a drug like the leukemia treatment Gleevec — a pill taken daily, sometimes for the rest of a person’s life.

The Affordable Care Act sets limits for how much people have to spend on care each year. But cancer treatments often extend beyond a year, and those limits don’t apply to care sought outside the increasingly narrow network of doctors and hospitals that some insurers offer.

A few years ago, Zafar and colleagues surveyed 300 adult, insured patients at the cancer institute. Nearly 40 percent reported a higher-than-expected financial burden, while 16 percent dealt with what he called overwhelming financial distress.

Patients and doctors need to keep talking throughout treatment about their ultimate goal. Eventually, that may include discussing whether an expensive drug that improves a patient’s quality of life is worth the cost, said Dr. Ali Thaver of the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Most hospitals and cancer centers offer some help for patients facing financial challenges, and many are bolstering the assistance they provide. That help might include a counselor who finds drug coupons and connects patients with charities, or a financial planner who helps people scrutinize their income and debt levels.

Dan Sherman, a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based consultant, has helped launch some 35 patient navigation programs in U.S. hospitals in the past six years to help people deal with problems like high deductibles or find better insurance coverage based on their prescriptions and medical needs.

Sherman noticed last year that one of his patients had surgery scheduled for Dec. 29. He arranged for it to be delayed a few days until after the patient’s coverage reset. That saved her from having to pay a $5,000 deductible for the surgery and then face a fresh deductible in the new year.

Rizo, the 39-year-old Phoenix breast cancer patient would have welcomed more help. She didn’t know that disability pay would amount to only 40 percent of her income when she went on leave from her job processing pre-authorization treatment requests for a health insurer. She also didn’t realize she’d have an insurance coverage gap before qualifying for the government-funded Medicaid program for the poor.