Living with Advanced Breast Cancer (ABC) can be life-changing and stressful on its own, let alone when you factor in the cost of care. Some estimates have suggested that the average cost for treating a case of breast cancer can range from $20,000-$120,000 or more, with more advanced cases falling on the higher end of that spectrum.1,2 With these incredibly high numbers, it’s not surprising that many individuals with ABC are looking for ways to safely cut back on costs. Some common tips for alleviating the cost of living with ABC are included below.
Researching treatment options and asking questions
You are an active and critical part of your healthcare team and should be treated as such. Your questions and concerns are valid, and your provider and other members of your healthcare team should take them seriously and provide you with as much information as possible. Some examples of research you can do and questions you can ask about your care include:
Asking about the type and amount of medication you’re being prescribed: In some cases, generic medications may be just as appropriate as the name brand drugs, however, generics are much less expensive. You can always ask your doctor if what you’re being prescribed is a generic medication, or if there is a generic option if it isn’t. Additionally, if you’re trying a new medication for the first time and are unsure about its side-effects or how effective it might be, you can ask your doctor for a smaller amount of the medication to try first. This way, if the new medication isn’t going to work for you long-term, you aren’t left with extra that you paid for but will never use.
Researching financial assistance programs for medications: When you find out what, if any, medications your physician wants to prescribe for you, consider researching the company that makes them. Some pharmaceutical companies have financial assistance programs designed to help with the cost of pricier medications.
Inquiring about costs and shopping around: Treatments and procedures can cost different amounts from place to place. You can ask your doctor or healthcare system about the cost of treatment at their location and compare it to others in your area. If your provider doesn’t know the cost of a treatment or where you can go to get affordable care, they should be able to direct you to a financial counselor at their practice or at a healthcare system nearby for that information.
Getting a second opinion: If your provider is not answering your questions appropriately or isn’t making you feel heard, a second opinion may be warranted. A second opinion may also be helpful to gain another perspective on what treatment options are recommended and to find out what financial resources a different clinic or healthcare system has available to those seeking care.
Asking about clinical trials: One way some individuals receive ABC treatment is through clinical trial participation. Treatment through a clinical trial is generally provided at no cost to the participant, and in some cases, compensation may be provided. Clinical trials are not of interest to everyone, and not every individual who wants to do a clinical trial will be eligible, however, they may be beneficial to consider. Your physician or healthcare system may know of clinical trials in your area, or may even have their own trials going on that you can join.
Talking to others: Talking to other individuals who have gone through ABC treatment and asking about their financial experiences may be incredibly helpful. Individuals in a support group, either in person or online, may be able to recommend physicians who are transparent about costs, healthcare systems that have reasonable prices, and other tips and tricks for navigating care. Others who have been living with ABC may also have input on clinical trial participation. You can also consult a counselor (financial or personal), a social worker, or a large national organization dedicated to cancer care, like the American Cancer Society, for tips on treatment and costs.3
Do your due diligence when it comes to your plans
There are many plans to consider when it comes to treating ABC, including insurance plans, payment plans, disability plans, and more. Ways you can best understand and be in control of your plans include the following:
Inquiring about a payment plan: Ask your provider or healthcare system if they have a payment plan option, and about any additional costs that may be associated with setting this up. Finding a payment plan that allows for a longer repayment period, with relatively low additional costs (if any), may help you pay less right now, when you may need to be saving the most.
Understanding your insurance coverage: If you are insured, talk with your insurance provider about the nature of your plan (you may also be able to talk with your employer or HR representative if you are insured through work). Understanding what treatments and appointments are covered, and what healthcare systems and providers are “in network” may help you avoid unexpected costs later.
Investigating disability: In some situations, filing for disability may be helpful. There are short- and long-term disability plans and each plan may come with different benefits and drawbacks. If you are working, your HR representative may be able to help you navigate these issues. Otherwise, you can research and apply for disability on your own through the Social Security Administration.4
Zimmerman MP, Mehr SR. Breast Cancer: Will Treatment Costs Outpace Effectiveness? American Journal of Managed Care. https://www.ajmc.com/journals/evidence-based-oncology/2012/2012-2-vol18-n5/breast-cancer-will-treatment-costs-outpace-effectiveness. Published December 6, 2012. Accessed February 12, 2019.
Levitan D. ASCO Breast: Metastatic Breast Cancer Costs Similar Across Most Treatment Options. http://www.cancernetwork.com/asco-2011-breast-cancer-symposium/asco-breast-metastatic-breast-cancer-costs-similar-across-most-treatment-options. Published September 13, 2011. Accessed February 12, 2019.
11 Ways to Lower the Cost of Metastatic Breast Cancer Care. BreastCancer.org. https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/recur_metast/slideshows/lower-cost?. Published March 22, 2018. Accessed February 12, 2019.
Disability Benefits. Social Security Administration. https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/disability/. Accessed February 12, 2019.