There is nothing more gut-wrenching than a mesothelioma diagnosis. The cancer is an aggressive illness, and hearing that you have it is distressing, to say the least. After the emotional shock of a diagnosis, however, you will be forced to deal with the reality of mesothelioma costs.
There is no way to skirt around this issue: treating mesothelioma is expensive. This is especially true if you are uninsured or underinsured. Thankfully, there are financial resources for mesothelioma that can help you cover a variety of those costs. You can also help fund your medical bills by filing insurance claims, lawsuits, or benefits claims.
No one wants to think about money after a loved one is diagnosed with a major illness, but it is a necessary component of healthcare in the United States. Being proactive can ensure that you receive compensation in a timely manner.
Why are Costs of Mesothelioma so High?
The easy answer to this question is that hospitals and cancer centers in the United States need to make money in order to be able to function. If you have really great insurance, it’s possible they will cover a large majority of your mesothelioma medical bills. But, many Americans do not have that luxury.
Instead, most people are tasked with covering many of their expenses out of pocket. Everything from diagnostic procedures and chemotherapy drugs to lodging and travel could come at the expense of the patient and/or their family.
The first costs that mesothelioma patients will incur are for diagnostic procedures. It can take weeks or even months to get an accurate diagnosis depending on the doctor. Mesothelioma is a relatively obscure disease, only affecting about 3,000 Americans each year. So, doctors often check for the existence of numerous other, more widespread illnesses before they screen for mesothelioma.
Diagnostic procedures come in one of four categories:
- Blood tests and biomarker assays (like Mesomark)
- Imaging techniques (X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, etc.)
- Fluid biopsies (drawn out through needle aspiration)
- Tissue biopsies (requiring either camera-assisted surgery or full invasive surgery)
Most blood tests and biomarker assays are relatively inexpensive. But, imaging techniques can cost you anywhere from $800 to $1,600. X-rays are generally cheaper (ranging from $100 to $500), but they are also less conclusive. PET scans provide a more in-depth look at the affected area but can cost up to $2,800.
Biopsies are performed to determine whether or not cancerous cells are present in the body. With mesothelioma, fluid usually builds up in the pleural space for the pleural form of the disease (a condition called pleural effusion) or the abdominal cavity for peritoneal mesothelioma (a condition called ascites). Doctors can remove this fluid through needle aspiration to have it tested by a pathologist. The average cost for these procedures is typically between $500 and $700.
None of these procedures is 100% accurate. They can only give doctors and oncologists an idea of what a patient might have. The only 100% accurate diagnostic procedure is a full tissue biopsy. Camera-assisted surgeries, which are considered minimally-invasive, are the least expensive option for retrieving tissue biopsies, costing between $3,500 and $5,000. In some cases, tumors are situated in locations that make camera-assisted biopsies impractical. Open surgeries are then required to retrieve the tissue adequately. These procedures can cost as much as $8,000 or more.
As you can see, it’s not uncommon for a mesothelioma diagnosis alone to cost up to $20,000 or more. In order to diagnose accurately, sometimes doctors perform multiple biopsy procedures and run multiple imaging scans or blood tests. This, of course, can drive up the costs significantly.
Of course, this doesn’t even take into account mesothelioma treatment costs. Many mesothelioma patients are given a multimodal treatment course that includes:
- Radiation therapy
Chemotherapy is likely the most expensive treatment option for mesothelioma. Each round of chemotherapy can cast anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000. When you consider that it’s not uncommon for patients to undergo as many as six rounds of chemotherapy, you can see how costs could pile up drastically.
Radiation therapy is also fairly expensive ranging from $7,000 to $12,000 per course of treatment. Again, multiple courses of radiation can be delivered, driving up the cost. Depending on the severity of a surgical procedure, costs can range from $13,000 to $30,000.
At the bare minimum, the cost for mesothelioma diagnostic procedures and treatments can be as high as $60,000. In many cases, that cost balloons to several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This also does not take into account secondary costs, which can include:
- Travel and lodging (many patients do not live near cancer facilities)
- Prescription drugs
- Long-term hospital stays
- Follow-up screenings, tests, and check-ups
- Psychiatric care (including counseling and any medications)
- Alternative and experimental treatments
- Lost wages from missing work (for both the patient and their family)
- Additional interest payments if credit cards are used to pay bills
It is not hard to see how many American families can be swamped by medical bills after a mesothelioma diagnosis. Luckily, there are methods to help offset those costs.
Financial Support for Mesothelioma Costs
After looking at the above costs, you may be wondering how to pay for mesothelioma. There are actually quite a few avenues you can take to help finance your mesothelioma medical bills and medication costs. Of course, there are no guarantees that you will always be able to cover your bills, but you should still leave no stone unturned when seeking money.
Common methods for receiving financial assistance for mesothelioma include:
- Insurance claims (health, life, disability, supplemental, etc.)
- Governmental and charitable programs and organizations
- Legal claims (lawsuits and asbestos trust funds)
- Benefits claims (workers’ compensation and Veterans Affairs benefits)
If you are fortunate enough to have high-quality health insurance, then your insurer may pay a bulk of the medical costs for you. On average, most insurers require the individual to pay 20% of all medical costs out of pocket (this is known as the coinsurance payment).
Other common terms you should know include:
- Copay (the usually flat amount of money you pay for each doctor’s visit or prescription refill)
- Premium (this is usually the amount of money you pay monthly for your insurance)
- Deductible (the maximum amount of money you will have to pay out of pocket before the insurance company takes over all expenditures)
Not everyone has good health insurance, and many do not have insurance at all. Thus, they cannot rely on an insurance policy to cover costs in the event of a major illness. Even individuals that have only a 20% coinsurance payment may struggle to pay all mesothelioma medical bills. For example, if an insurer covers 80% of a $100,000 chemotherapy bill, you will still be stuck paying $20,000 just for that treatment. For many Americans, that is simply not practical.
There are other types of insurance that can help cover medical costs. Disability insurance, for example, generally pays individuals with disabilities a steady income. You can acquire disability insurance through either an employer or the Social Security Disability Insurance program. For long-term illnesses like mesothelioma, you may be able to receive an income equal to the amount of money you would have otherwise earned without a disability.
Supplemental insurance may also be an option for mesothelioma sufferers. In general, you will have needed to purchase supplemental insurance prior to the diagnosis of mesothelioma.
Some supplemental insurance policies include:
- Cancer insurance – insurance that kicks in when a patient is diagnosed with any form of cancer like mesothelioma
- Critical illness insurance – insurance reserved for patients who are diagnosed with a critical illness (mesothelioma usually qualifies)
- Hospital insurance – insurance that covers some additional costs associated with hospital stays or using hospital services
While it may not be ideal, some life insurance policies can help pay for remaining medical and general living costs after a mesothelioma patient has passed. Family members of deceased mesothelioma patients will still be stuck with outstanding bills after their loved one’s passing, and life insurance can certainly put a dent in those fees.
Governmental and Charitable Organizations and Programs
In many cases, mesothelioma patients may qualify for government insurance programs like Medicare or Medicaid. If you’re in a particular income or age bracket, all you have to do is apply to receive at least some coverage. Other programs and organizations are not as easy to find. But, many national, state, and local entities exist that can help cover a variety of different costs.
Sites and organizations that offer databases of local programs include:
All of these can help lead you to a program that will cover treatment costs. Of course, you may not be eligible for all programs, but these resources can let you know what is available near you.
Other programs can also provide travel or lodging assistance to patients with major illnesses like mesothelioma. Again, many mesothelioma patients do not live near cancer facilities that offer the best treatment options and are required to arrange their own transportation and lodging at often high costs.
Some organizations and programs that can offset those costs include:
- Air Charity Network – Free flights to major medical centers are offered by volunteer pilots
- LifeLine Pilots – Another organization of volunteer pilots that will fly patients for diagnostic procedures and medical treatments
- Corporate Angel Network – Free flights are offered on corporate or private planes with vacant seats to patients seeking medical treatment
- The road to Recovery – An American Cancer Society program that assists cancer patients with rides to and from cancer facilities
- Hope Lodge – Another American Cancer Society program that provides free lodging for cancer patients and their loved ones
- Joe’s House – An organization that looks for free or low-cost lodging for cancer patients
- Hospitality Housing Network – A network of free or low-cost lodging options that also often include common areas for cancer patients
Another way to recoup losses after a mesothelioma medical bills start piling up is with legal claims. The primary cause of all mesothelioma diagnoses is exposure to asbestos. Under most circumstances, manufacturers of asbestos products and the employers that used them knew of their dangerous effects and still allowed workers and consumers to be exposed unwittingly. Mesothelioma sufferers can now make legal claims against these companies.
Lawsuits are a common way to receive settlements or jury verdicts that often pay for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other expenses incurred through a mesothelioma diagnosis. Settlements are generally paid prior to a verdict being reached in a trial, and the average payout is around $1.3 million. If a trial is allowed to progress to a verdict, an average payout is around $2 million or more. In certain cases, mesothelioma lawsuits have produced payouts over $100 million.
You can also make a claim against asbestos trust funds. These trusts were usually set up after asbestos manufacturers, and other asbestos-related companies went bankrupt. Currently, there is around $30 billion in asbestos trust funds throughout the United States. Most trusts only pay out about 20 to 25% of the original claim. So if you make a successful $100,000 claim against an asbestos trust fund, you will likely receive $20,000 in remuneration.
Benefits claims often use the same premise as legal claims (i.e., that organizations are responsible for asbestos exposure). Workers’ compensation benefits are reserved for claims against an individual’s employer. For instance, if you worked at a power plant where you were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis, you can file a workers’ compensation claim against that power plant (or the plant’s owner). Workers’ compensation benefits tend to be smaller than what you could earn through lawsuits or asbestos trust funds, however.
Veterans can also receive certain benefits through the United States Veterans Affairs Department (VA). Many veterans were exposed to asbestos throughout their service. VA benefits claims allow them to be remunerated for their suffering after they have developed mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease.
It should be noted that all benefits and legal claims require substantial evidence. A mesothelioma lawyer can help you accumulate evidence and bring in witnesses to corroborate that evidence.
Other Methods for Financial Assistance
If you have exhausted all other avenues or you want more options for financial assistance, there are still a few things you can do. For starters, you can always negotiate with hospitals and cancer centers. Some will be willing to waive fees or subtract certain costs (like the price of an imaging scan). Talk to hospital administrators to see if there is any wiggle room.
Clinical trials can also cover some of the costs associated with mesothelioma. Many clinical trials are sponsored by governmental organizations, scholastic institutions, or pharmaceutical companies with large reserves of cash at their disposal. Some clinical trials can offer high-quality healthcare and experimental medications entirely for free. Talk to your oncologist or local cancer center to find out about clinical trials in your area.
Although medical costs can be high, financial resources for mesothelioma are clearly out there. After diagnosis, you should begin looking into these resources as soon as possible. This is especially true for legal and benefits claims which can have relatively short statutes of limitations.