Getting a diagnosis of cancer when you are uninsured is a harrowing event. Many times the options depend on your sex, your type of cancer, and where you live. Federal legislation provides that female patients diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer qualify for Medicaid for cancer treatment if low income. For female patients with other types of cancer or for male cancer patients, the federal coverage laws do not apply. For states, like Georgia, that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, patients have fewer options.
Uninsured adults often delay preventive care which can worsen survival outcomes. Also more advanced stages of cancer require more expensive care. Whether an uninsured cancer patient can get care often depends on where the person lives and the type of cancer he or she has.
Researchers at the American Cancer Society estimate that 30,000 uninsured people are diagnosed with cancer every year. Uninsured cancer patients incur credit card debt or launch GoFunMe campaigns. People mortgage their homes for cancer treatment. While cancer patients can purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, they must wait until the regular enrollment period in November of each year. Then the plans do not activate until the start of the next calendar year.
One avenue to coverage is to apply for Social Security disability which comes with either Medicaid or Medicare depending on one’s work credits. However, if a person with work credits qualifies for SSDI, then that will disqualify the person, usually, from SSI. SSDI has a two year waiting period for Medicare. If the person qualifies only for SSI, then Medicaid has no waiting period. This arbitrary waiting period often prevents much needed medical coverage for those who have paid into the program with payroll taxes. Even if a person meets one of Social Security’s Compassionate Allowances for cancer which allows for fast track processing, the Medicare two year waiting period still applies.
The Georgia Department of Public Health assists with Georgia’s Cancer State Aid program which funds access to services for eligible cancer patients. Applicants must qualify medically and financially for assistance. The financial eligibility is guidelines limit the annual income for an individual to $33,975. The person must be a Georgia resident, uninsured, ineligible for Medicaid, a U.S. citizen, meet the poverty guidelines, and require cancer treatment. The non-profit Georgia CORE (Center for Oncology Research and Education) provides emergency financial assistance for basic needs to cancer eligible patient in metro Atlanta.