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Published on January 18, 2017

The number two concern for cancer patientsThe number two concern for cancer patients

Enduring cancer treatment is difficult enough, but when you add in the financial aspect of the disease, it can become as stressful as the diagnosis itself.

With that in mind, Cape Cod Healthcare created the Oncology Finance Program, which is located in the medical oncology department of the Davenport-Mugar Cancer Center at Cape Cod Hospital. The program helps patients navigate the business side of a cancer diagnosis.

Tara Lock, director of cancer services at Cape Cod Healthcare, oversees the program, in which patients receive help understanding their insurance policies, as well as the direct and indirect costs associated with cancer.

“Studies have shown that that after a cancer diagnosis there are two survival concerns. Number one is care, and paying for that care is number two,” Lock said. “Patients are paying out of pocket for drugs more than ever before and insurance companies are pushing back, so we have to get in front of that so our patients can concentrate on getting better.”

Help With a Variety of Concerns

Lock works along with Donna Blasingame, oncology finance manager, to give oncology patients a more “precise treatment plan” rather than a broad overview. They help cancer patients with a spectrum of concerns, including:

  • Treatment timelines
  • Insurance plan’s oncology benefits
  • Federal and state insurance applications
  • Anticipated medical expense assessments
  • In-depth research on a patient’s debt
  • Financial options based on a patient’s household size and living situation.

“We get as specific as possible with our patients and take the time to go through each and every step of their treatment plan,” Lock said. “We also do a calendar of when the costs that belong to the patient are going to hit them and how we can work with them to help them pay those costs.”

Oncology medications are typically among the most costly, according to Lock. For instance, one type of medication, called “nabs,” are a type of chemotherapy that work with a patient’s immune system. While these drugs are revolutionary, they can cost upwards of $14,000 a month, she said. While some patients are fortunate to have insurance that can pay for these drugs, many are left with expensive co-pays or are faced with $5,000 to $10,000 deductibles. Still others either don’t have insurance or are under-insured.

Address Financial Concerns Early

“Oncology is such a specialized area that it has a lot of external funding so there are foundations that help with all kinds of out-of-pocket expenses,” Lock said. “This is a huge issue and we have officially become the entity that not only negotiates with the hospital’s financial services department, but also researches these foundations to find the right match for each patient.”

Blasingame has made connections over the last five years with doctors, insurance providers, and foundations through past positions with other healthcare providers. She said it’s “incredibly important” for oncology patient to come to her immediately with any questions or concerns so their budget, debt, bills, and treatment plans can be evaluated. Out of fear,  many patients avoid confronting their bills, which can only make their situation worse, she said.

“I have had many patients in the past that avoid the mailman or bring me boxes of bills they haven’t opened in a year,” Blasingame said. “They are afraid for their families and have a fear that they could lose their homes, but I want people to know that I’m here to help them find solutions.”

Lock agreed and said that helping people face such difficult decisions, can be emotional, but rewarding for all involved.

“With a cancer diagnosis, the fear is so incredibly intense and, while I’m not a clinician, this is my contribution to the patient’s care experience,” she said. “When I can help take the financial burden and stress off of their plate, and allow them to focus on healing and their families, it’s an amazing feeling.”

For more information or to make an appointment with the CCHC Oncology Finance Program, please call 508-862-7548.