Is cancer a death sentence for the uninsured?

Getting diagnosed with cancer is terrifying for anyone. But for the 45 million uninsured Americans, it can mean a death sentence.

FirstQuote Health Staff
Published on
February 5, 2019
Last Updated on
October 6, 2023
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The idea of getting diagnosed with cancer would make anyone break out in a cold sweat. But for 45 million uninsured Americans, the C word might feel like a death sentence. Prices for cancer treatment have always been astronomical, and the rates for drugs continue to skyrocket.

Is there hope for the uninsured in the face of a devastating diagnosis?

The stats regarding uninsured cancer patients are grim. Those without private healthcare are twice as likely to die from cancer. This is partly due to the fact that those without access to affordable healthcare are more likely to ignore symptoms until they reach a critical stage. By then it's often too late.

Many more Americans refuse to get treatment once they've been diagnosed with cancer - simply because they don’t want to leave their family with thousands of dollars of debt if they pass on.

Without private insurance, the average cost to treat cancer is **$10,000 - per month**. Getting health insurance after a cancer diagnosis can be hard to obtain. Even for those who are covered by their company's insurance face a steep crisis if they find themselves sick. If they become too ill to work, they could lose their health coverage.

The Affordable Care Act aimed to solve some of the issues facing uninsured cancer patients. It put stipulations in place, so insurance companies couldn't discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, or rescind coverage after a diagnosis. Medicaid can help the poorest citizens with expensive treatment.

But Medicaid isn't without its flaws. For the middle class, who have assets such as a house, they narrowly miss the criteria for getting government aid. A $10,000 monthly price tag for treatment is still an impossible fee, for all but the 1% - who are likely to already have health insurance. Even if a patient has transferred or sold any assets in the last five years, they're still exempt from receiving Medicaid.

Why Cancer Drugs Are So Expensive

To research a new drug for the treatment of cancer costs between $60 and $90 million. Many of these trials are unsuccessful. But the real problem with the pharmaceutical industry is disproportionate funding between research and marketing. According to a recent study, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry spends $19 on marketing and promotion for every $1 it spends on research and development of new drugs.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with cancer, but don't have health insurance - what are the alternatives?

HIPAA or COBRA plans

If you've had health insurance in the last 65 days, check and see if you could be covered under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) or COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act). These laws can help patients if they've lost their job and insurance due to illness.


Certain charities can help you get treatment for cancer. The Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition could provide helpful information on how to get assistance paying your medical bills. Visit them here.

Clinical Trial

If you sign up for a clinical trial of a cancer drug, you might not have to pay for your treatment. But clinical trials can be experimental and undependable. The drug they're testing might be ineffective, or even harmful, or you could simply be placed on a placebo. To find clinical trials in your area, check out for more information.

Get Help

Every hospital has a social worker who is available to discuss treatment options for patients without insurance.

Get An Independent Agent

The best way to beat cancer is to get a health insurance plan **before you get diagnosed**. But if even if you have a recent diagnosis, you could still find an affordable health insurance quote customized to meet your needs. To learn more, talk to an independent agent today. It's free, impartial advice from those who know the healthcare system inside and out.

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