Women Struggle With Breast Cancer Expenses

"I think it stinks that Medicare considers it fraud to undercharge a patient or excuse their co-payments without extensive documentation," said Dr. Anthony Elias, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado. He says that most hospitals will see a small number of uninsured patients, especially if they live in the area and they may be eligible for Medicaid in the future.

"For millions of people with cancer, there is little hope when the costs of treatment are more than they can afford," said Steven Weiss, senior director of communications and media advocacy at the American Cancer Society (ACS).

"Some pharmaceutical companies offer drugs for little or no cost to those in need — called 'charity care,'" he said. "But for those who cannot benefit from these limited offerings, the choice often comes down to paying for treatment or paying for daily needs such as food, electricity or the mortgage."

In light of the problem, ACS recently launched a campaign to bring awareness to the issue of cancer treatment for the uninsured.

Many doctors say that the key to change lies at the federal level, and that the current situation is not sustainable.

It's a conclusion with which cancer patient Pierre agrees. Pierre, who just found out she needs more chemo because the cancer is not gone, said, "I just hope I'll be alive to see the change. It's so frustrating."

Know Your Rights

When it comes to getting screened for breast cancer, most women know what to do to: go to the doctor and get a mammogram.

But what about women who have no insurance, or women who have insurance that doesn't cover all treatment for breast cancer?

There are state and federal programs that can help, including some that are not widely publicized. With National Mammography Day coming up Friday, there is still time to find a free or low-cost medical center.

Here are some organizations that can help:

At the American Cancer Society Web site, you can enter your zip code or call 1-800-ACS-2345 to find out where to get a free mammogram.

The National Cancer Institute can be reached at 1-800-4-CANCER, and the representatives can tell you where to find a center for a free mammogram.

The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program is designed to provide access to mammography and related services, including breast biopsy and treatment, through local providers. The program works differently in each state, so check the specifics for your area.

Breastcancer.org has advice on how to pay medical bills.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation provides a listing of organizations to which they have granted funding, so call to see what services might be available in your area.

YWCA Encore Plus Programs provide services on a sliding scale. Screening mammography is available to women 35 years and older who are medically underserved. Call 1-800-95-EPLUS (1-800-953-7587).

At the American Breast Cancer Foundation you can apply for mammogram assistance.

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