Helping seriously ill patients pay their bills

- Hearing the words, "You've got cancer." can be devastating.

Patients often worry not just about the fight ahead, but how they're going to pay their mortgage and other bills.

A veteran nurse, Kimberly Carrigg of Tallapoosa, Georgia is now adjusting to life as a patient. 

The 48-year old was diagnosed with breast cancer August 5th, the day after she had a biopsy.

"I said, 'Oh, my gosh.  I don't know what I'm going to do,’ says Carrigg. “I was already out of work,"

When Carrigg talked to her physician at Piedmont Cancer Center in Atlanta, the doctor contacted Emily Birckhead, an oncology social worker at the center, who quickly called Carrigg, knowing she was probably feeling overwhelmed.

"Normally with a cancer diagnosis, they're reeling from that,” says Birckhead.  “And then, afterward, it's this distress of, 'How am I going to pay for this?’"

Carrigg, who is the primary breadwinner in her home and was already battling Graves Disease, is facing 7-more weeks of chemotherapy, then surgery, and then radiation.

So, her bills will be substantial.

"On average, I would say, it could cost someone $16,000 to $18,000 a year for cancer costs.,” says Birckhead.

If you're facing a major diagnosis, Birckhead says, sit down and think about what kind of help you need most, right now.

"Some of those initial issues like paying the mortgage, there are some organizations that can help you with that,” she says.  “Or, covering your rent for a month, maybe. Just to help you get through."

By Googling "patient assistance programs," you can find non-profits like Cancer Care, which offers help with transportation, child care and home assistance to patients in treatment who meet certain income requirements. 

The Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition's  website lists 15 non-profits that might be able to help,

Some serve patients with cancer, some focus on other illnesses.

If you're having trouble pay for medication, meeting your insurance deductible, or paying your monthly premium,

you may qualify for help.

Birckhead says it may also be helpful to reach out to community organizations like your faith community, or your cancer treatment hospital, to see if they have patient assistance programs.

"I have had patients use Go Fund Me, and get a lot of help there,” she says.  “Sometimes it's difficult to talk to your friends and family about getting assistance.  But having a friend set that up for you can really help."

Kimberly Carrigg is grateful for Piedmont's help, so she can focus on what's really important: her health.

To find out more about patient assistance programs, visit the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition’s website cancerfac.org.

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