What If You Don't Have Health Insurance?


Unfortunately, many Americans do not have health insurance coverage. They may feel that they are young and healthy and would rather spend the money on other needs. Or they are waiting to get a job with health insurance benefits.

What can you do if you suspect you may have cancer, but don't have health insurance?

If your cancer is slow-growing and non-emergent in nature, you could sign up for health insurance (or get a job with health insurance benefits) and wait until after the pre-existing condition exclusion period to have it discovered by your doctor. So long as you don't know you have cancer and you have not sought medical attention to diagnose or treat the cancer, it might not be considered a pre-existing condition.

Some health insurance plans will require a physical or blood test before issuing a policy. (This is more common with life insurance than health insurance policies.) Such examinations, however, might not detect the cancer if it is not palpable.

This approach, however, is risky for two reasons. First, delaying treatment could have serious consequences for your health. Second, failing to disclose your condition could involve fraud.

An alternative is to seek immediate treatment and talk to a social worker at the hospital about ways to pay for the treatment. The hospital's billing department may be able to set up a payment plan, or discount the bills to the "usual and customary" charges paid by insurance companies. The hospital may have a community care program that helps needy patients with their bills. If you're indigent, you might qualify for Medicaid. Pharmaceutical companies have established compassionate drug programs such as NeedyMeds and Partnership for Prescription Assistance (1-888-4PPA-NOW). See also cancer financial assistance. Be polite and sincere, and people will try to help you.

Let your friends and family know about your situation. People in your community, church or synagogue will want to help.

If you have insurance, but your coverage has been denied, ask about the appeals process.

If you are a student in college, ask the Dean of Students for help. Some colleges have a clause in their health insurance contract that allows them to require the health insurance plan to pay a claim. Colleges that don't require all students to have health insurance coverage, or which provide inadequate coverage, are more likely to do this in order to minimize their liability. (International students are required by law to have health insurance coverage, but there is no similar requirements for students who are US citizens.)

If all else fails, you can file for bankruptcy. Medical bills are the leading cause of personal bankruptcies in the US.

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