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How To Get Multiple Myeloma Treatment Without Insurance

Posted on December 13, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Todd Gersten, M.D.
Article written by
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H.

Different medications and procedures can be effective for treating multiple myeloma, but they can also be very costly. Multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, usually requires long-term treatment because there is no cure. Paying for long-term treatment can become a financial burden, especially for those who are uninsured. Fortunately, there are different programs and resources to help uninsured people with multiple myeloma afford and receive treatment.

Treatment options for multiple myeloma include targeted therapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplants, CAR T-cell therapy, and supportive care. These costs can add up to thousands of dollars. Health insurance can make the cost of treatment much more affordable. For people who don’t have insurance, there are resources to help access treatment. For example, programs offered by nonprofit organizations and drug manufacturers help reduce the cost of medications, and oncology social workers can help navigate different assistance resources.

For people undergoing multiple myeloma treatment, there are also financial assistance programs that help to cover the costs of both cancer-related and everyday expenses like transportation to and from care facilities, temporary housing, childcare, and food. This article provides an overview of different options for accessing and affording multiple myeloma treatments if you’re uninsured.

Enroll in a Health Insurance Plan

If you’re uninsured, consider the option of health insurance when planning your finances for cancer treatment. Although health insurance costs like premiums, copays, and deductibles may seem expensive, they will cost less than trying to pay for long-term cancer care without insurance. There are many public and private health insurance programs to consider.

Public Insurance Programs

Public health insurance programs include:

  • Medicaid is for individuals with a low income, families, and children.
  • Medicare is for adults over 65 and individuals who receive Social Security Administration disability benefits.
  • Social Security Administration disability benefits (through Medicare) are for those who have worked jobs that paid into Social Security and cannot currently work due to myeloma or side effects of its treatment.

Private Insurance Programs

If you do not qualify for a public health insurance program, there are several options for private health insurance:

  • Employer-based insurance is available if you or your spouse are employed. You may qualify for health insurance through your employer.
  • If you have recently lost your job, ask your former employer’s human resources department if you qualify for COBRA health insurance.
  • If you’re a student, check if your school or university offers health insurance plans.
  • Veterans’ health care benefits are available to you if you served in the military. Apply at their website.
  • You may purchase health insurance through your state’s marketplace or exchange at healthcare.gov, and you must enroll during the open enrollment period, which is around November to January 15 every year.

Consult a Social Worker or Financial Counselor

If enrolling in a health insurance plan is not possible for you, the next step in managing multiple myeloma treatment costs should be consulting an oncology social worker. These providers are an invaluable resource when navigating myeloma treatment plans without insurance.

Social workers and financial counselors help connect you with financial aid programs you may be eligible for and offer tips for saving money on medical bills. They will also know of local city and county-based medical aid options for people with a low income and those who are uninsured. Most hospitals and clinics have social workers and financial counselors on staff. If you have trouble locating a social worker, CancerCare offers oncology social workers that you can contact at 800-813-4673.

Affording Medications Without Insurance

There are several different ways to save money on medications if you don’t have insurance, including drug discount programs and techniques for getting prescribed less expensive medications.

Financial Assistance Programs

Pharmaceutical assistance programs are drug discount programs offered directly by drug manufacturers to help reduce the cost of medications. These programs are mainly offered to people who have insurance, but many drug manufacturers have charity-based programs for people with a low income who don’t have insurance.

To find assistance programs, do a Google search of the name of your prescribed medication and “patient assistance program,” or review this chart with popular anticancer medications by Triage Cancer.

Some assistance programs for multiple myeloma medications include:

The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation has a list of drug manufacturer assistance programs on its website.

Some resources help connect people with relevant financial assistance programs. One example is NeedyMeds, a nonprofit organization that helps people find assistance programs by drug or diagnosis. PhRMA’s Medicine Assistance Tool matches people with resources for affording medications.

Tips for Saving Money on Medications

In addition to drug discount programs, there are other ways to try lowering the costs of your medications. Here are some ideas:

  • Ask your doctor if there is a less expensive form of your prescribed medication (sometimes whether a medication is in pill or infusion form will affect its cost, for example).
  • Ask if there are any less expensive or generic alternatives for your prescribed medications.
  • Ask if your doctor has samples of your medications that they could give you for free.
  • Shop around — compare prices across different pharmacies by searching online or calling the pharmacy directly. Websites like GoodRx offer drug discounts and also help you compare prices across retailers.
  • Online pharmacies may offer lower prices, but make sure to check their legitimacy by checking for a National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites Seal, also known as a VIPPS Seal, before purchasing any products from them.

Consider a Clinical Trial

Whether or not you have insurance, clinical trials could be an option for accessing treatment for multiple myeloma. Clinical trials are FDA-sponsored research studies that examine the efficacy of new drugs and procedures. Ask your oncologist if they know of any clinical trials you may be eligible for. The Lazarex Cancer Foundation can help connect you with appropriate clinical trials and they offer financial assistance for trial participation.

Affording Hospital Bills Without Insurance

Treatment of multiple myeloma often requires outpatient visits to hospitals or cancer centers. If you are uninsured and cannot afford to pay a medical bill, try meeting in person with someone from the billing department where you received treatment. Explain your situation and ask if they can offer financial help, including options like:

  • Payment plans, which could allow you to pay the cost of a bill over a period of time
  • Funding for under- or uninsured people
  • Charity care
  • Discounts similar to those provided through Medicare

Many hospitals and cancer clinics offer these financial resources, but you may need to ask about them, as they are not automatically offered to everyone. If your hospital cannot offer any financial assistance, there may be another hospital nearby that can help.

Another option for affording hospital bills is by going to facilities that specifically serve individuals with a low income. Hospitals that are Hill-Burton Facilities are obligated to help provide free or low-cost medical services to people who cannot afford them. Check this list to find a Hill-Burton hospital near you.

Other Resources for Getting Myeloma Treatment Without Insurance

Many financial aid resources for cancer and other diseases require a person to have insurance to be eligible for aid. If you’re uninsured, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has a general Patient Aid Program for people with blood cancers like myeloma who need help paying for treatment.

Stem Cell Transplantation

Stem cell transplants, or bone marrow transplants, are a common treatment for multiple myeloma and involve the surgical replacement of cancer cells with healthy cells. Unfortunately, these procedures can be very expensive. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society recommends different strategies for reducing the costs of stem cell transplants. One strategy is to work directly with health care providers to negotiate medical fees.

Nonprofit organizations like the National Foundation for Transplants and the Blood and Marrow Transplant Information Network also provide support for people in need of transplants.

Indirect Expenses

In addition to financial resources for the medical expenses of myeloma, there are resources to help with nonmedical expenses — transportation, housing, and childcare while someone is undergoing treatment. Explore available resources at the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition and International Myeloma Foundation websites. The American Cancer Society also offers a list of resources to help with cancer-related treatment expenses.

Resources like Triage Cancer and the National Cancer Institute provide further support for managing life with multiple myeloma.

Talk To Others Who Understand

Talking to other people who understand what you are going through can be a great source of support. Other people with multiple myeloma may know of tips and financial resources for getting treatment while uninsured.

MyMyelomaTeam is the social network for people with multiple myeloma. On MyMyelomaTeam, more than 13,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with multiple myeloma.

Are you uninsured and living with multiple myeloma? Have you had success getting help with your medical care costs? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H. holds a masters in public health from Columbia University and is passionate about spreading accurate, evidence-based health information. Learn more about her here.

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