Being Indigent with Cancer & Illness

Many people in our world face a cancer diagnosis with no insurance and often no stable job with a source of income. Without income, facing the costs of hospital care, medications and treatment can be life-stopping and leave many wondering how they will ever be able to fight for their lives if they cannot afford it. Thankfully, in our country, there are many assistance programs made specifically for this purpose: to help those who need it pay the costs to fight for their lives. In this article, you will find many ways and options to help cover your medical care and costs when you need it.

How can I find healthcare assistance in my area?

  • Start with your doctor. Contact their billing office and ask about local programs offered by the hospital and other local organizations.
  • Search online using keywords like, “low-income health care, your city, and your state.”
  • Contact a local nonprofit cancer organization or hospital and ask for patient services representative to help you through the process.
  • Check local listings in the government section of your local telephone directory.
  • Check in with your local United Way location or try calling into the 2-1-1 telephone helpline.
  • Schedule a meeting with a local social worker or representative from the Department of Health and Human Services in your city.
  • Talk to your family and friends. Often, they, or someone they know, have gone through something similar and might have other, less-common options for you to try.

Assistance Programs Available

The following are programs offered around the country that may or may not apply to your situation and needs. Check in to as many of them as you can to ensure that all of your bases are covered.

Medicaid. This is a Federally funded program that is administered by the Medicaid offices located in each state. There are certain stipulations to receive Medicaid in this country. You must be a citizen or lawful United States resident, over 65 years of age, meet all income guidelines, have certain disabilities, or be a pregnant woman or child under eighteen years old. You can apply for Medicaid if your income is low and you meet the requirements of the eligibility group. Despite income level, assets or other issues, someone who has excessive medical debt and turmoil may also be considered for Medicaid, depending on their circumstances.

Medicare. This is a federal health insurance program that includes multi-levels of coverage options. Generally, this insurance covers prescription medications, doctor services, and hospital visits. Medicare is for people with certain disabilities and for citizens of the United States who are 65 or older. You must have worked for at least ten years in a Medicare-covered employment business to qualify for benefits. The Medicare program is set up in three parts.

Part 1 covers hospital insurance that will help pay for certain types of hospital care, short-term skilled nursing home care, and some health care.

Part 2 is medical insurance that will help pay for some preventative services and for the necessary doctor and medical services, outpatient care and other medical services.

Part 3 is a Medicare prescription drug coverage program which helps pay for the costs of drugs prescribed by your doctor and to help fight the rising costs of drugs in the future.

Social Security Benefits. If you have low income or limited resources and are having trouble paying for your medical expenses, contact your local social security office and make an appointment to discuss your options.

2-1-1 Phone Services. This is a United Way program available in many states across the country. You can call in to get information and referrals to human-related service programs for the everyday needs, and for emergencies. These services may also include referrals for physical and mental health resources, transportation, food banks, financial assistance programs, health insurance and in some cases, childcare.

Dental Assistance Programs. These programs are available in some capacity in all of our states for people with low income and no dental insurance. They are often run by a variety of volunteer-based or nonprofit organizations where local dentists and oral hygienists offer their time and business to help. Each program is different and has its own rules on eligibility, services, and any related fees. To find out information about these services, contact your local Health Department or dental school in your area.

Health Insurance Programs for Children. Many states offer full coverage for children up to the age of eighteen. Some states also offer this type of coverage for parents as well. Often the states use their Medicaid insurance to cover children. To check in to this type of coverage, contact your local family and children services resources and apply to their programs. You might also want to check in to the ‘CHIP’ program, which is the Children’s Health Insurance Program and is run nationwide.

Hospital Care Assistance Program. These services and programs are offered by the hospitals providing the care. Federal and state laws require certain hospitals to provide free medical care or reduced prices to people who are income eligible. Contact a patient advocate at the hospital you are dealing with or your local Health Department.

Financial Aid for Medical Treatments. These programs are sometimes offered by the medication makers through their company. These patient programs will often cover the course of medication needed for treatment. This is not a guaranteed service and there are often many stipulations. Check in with your medication manufacturer to see if they have these programs or any other assistance that can be offered.

Clinical Trials. These trials are studies and test treatments that are in development. One advantage of being on a clinical trial is that the treatment is often free, and the participants pays nothing to try it out. Talk with your healthcare provider if this is a method you would consider trying. Your medical care team can assist you in finding a legitimate trial to join and guide you along with the process. To check in to clinical trials yourself, simply visit, or check in with the National Institute of Health.

Assistance for Women. The Centers for Disease Control offer screenings and diagnostic services in every state through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. This program offers early cancer detection programs for women who have low income or are uninsured and underserved.

Community Health Centers and Free Clinics. Typically, there is no charge to visit a doctor or nurse at these clinics. Some can do lab work and medications as well, while others still write prescriptions to be filled at the pharmacy. These clinics provide general health care services that are based on a sliding-fee scale according to income.

Federally Qualified Health Center. An FQHC is a federally supported community-based health clinic that provides a number of health care services that are underserved. This includes Community Health Centers, Public Housing Primary Care plans, Migrant Health Centers, Homeless Health Care services, Urban Indian and Tribal Health Centers.

Rural Health Clinics. These clinics are located in rural, medically underserved communities. Coverage can include health care services provided by doctors, nurse practitioners, visiting nurses, clinical psychologists, and social workers.

Department of Veterans Affairs. Most military veterans are eligible for medical care and prescription drug coverage through their local VA facility. Any of those people who have service-related medical issues may be eligible for priority access to care. TRICARE is a managed program that works with the VA to provide health care services for eligible dependents.

Contact Information for Cancer Services Based Organizations

Use these pieces of information to direct yourself to the appropriate organization to provide you some assistance.


American Cancer Society

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Lymphoma Research Foundation

Be the Match (National Marrow Donor Program)

Patient Advocate Foundation’s Colorectal Careline

Sarcoma Alliance

If you have been diagnosed with cancer or a life-long illness and need help getting the medical care you need, reach out to your doctor or medical care team for assistance and help to get on the right track. There are many services and financial aid available for people who seek help. Do not be afraid to reach out for financial assistance as the costs for treatment and therapy can be astounding.

Resources Used:



.gov- Medicare, Medicaid

Reclaiming Intimacy

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