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Agencies, nonprofits help support patients and families
Healing Cancer Costs

Each year, thousands of Texans die of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The Texas Department of Health reported that in 2000, 33,298 Texans died of cancer, or about 91 people a day. The disease accounts for one of every four deaths in the state each year and is second only to heart disease as the leading cause of death in Texas. And cancer isn't just deadly; it's expensive.

The disease costs Texans an estimated $14 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity each year, according to the Texas Cancer Council (TCC), a state agency focused on reducing the human and economic burden of cancer in Texas.

The cost of treating cancer is rising due to an aging population, more complex and lengthier treatments and medical price inflation, according to The Cost of Cancer in Texas, a 2001 report by the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas and the Texas Health Care Information Council. Even a financially secure family can face hardships if a cancer patient loses his or her job and health insurance due to illness.

"A lot of times, people may have health insurance when they're diagnosed, but through being sick and losing their job, they lose their insurance," said Jane Osmond, program manager for the TCC.

Easing the burden
Several Texas nonprofits and agencies aim to help cancer patients and their families grapple with the financial burdens that cancer can bring.

Fort Worth-based Cancer Care Services opened in 1946 and offers financial assistance to those it defines as under-served cancer patients, meaning those with incomes of up to two and a half times the federal poverty level. For 2004, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines the poverty level as a family of four with an annual income of $18,850 or a single person making $9,300.

The nonprofit agency serves clients in Hood, Johnson, Parker and Tarrant counties and works with local agencies and medical suppliers to help its clients. It offers free social and emotional assistance through support groups, counseling and other activities to any cancer patient in its coverage area, regardless of income. Local foundations, businesses, individuals and the United Way fund the agency, which receives no federal funds or insurance reimbursements.

Footing the bill
Organizations like Cancer Care Services fill a need in Texas, according to state health officials.

"Despite what people might wish or hope for, there is no true safety net for people with cancer who are underinsured or uninsured," said Mickey Jacobs, former executive director of the TCC. "Even for people with insurance, many of the emotional needs and support services needs are not covered by insurance. Cancer Care Services is one of the initiatives to fill the critical gaps in cancer control."

Brenda Thomas applied for help from Cancer Care Services in 2001 after being diagnosed with breast cancer. A social worker at Moncrief Cancer Center, where Thomas was undergoing chemotherapy, referred Thomas to Cancer Care Services.

Thomas' physician advised her to take canned nutritional supplements, which can cost up to $8 for a six-pack. Through Cancer Care Services, Thomas bought the supplements at a reduced rate.

"They provided me a whole case for $5," Thomas said. "It was a godsend. That was a real big help to me."

Thomas undergoes chemotherapy every three months and attends a cancer survivors support group at Cancer Care Services every Wednesday afternoon.

"It is so great to be able to sit there and talk with people who know what you are feeling and what you are going through," Thomas said.

Emergency funds
Abilene-based nonprofit Cancer Services Network provides financial and emotional help for cancer patients and their families in Taylor County and 17 surrounding counties. The agency opened in 2002 with $5,000 and has a 2004 budget of $190,000, said Executive Director Frann Smith.

The agency has helped more than 260 clients and provides assistance to 25 to 30 clients each month.

Smith works with physicians, hospitals and clinics to let them know of her agency's services.

Cancer Services Network receives funds through local donations, fundraisers and grants and receives no government funding, Smith said. The agency serves clients with incomes of up to 200 percent of the poverty level. It pays for medical supplies and medicines, provides transportation reimbursement and pays to continue clients' insurance if it is discontinued.

"We get them on the front end of their cancer and try to help them through that time period of going to treatment and not having any money," Smith said.

If a patient is having trouble paying rent or bills, Cancer Services Network coordinates with local agencies to see if they can help, Smith said. If no other agencies can help, Cancer Services Network can provide emergency funds to pay a patient's rent or electricity bill, Smith said.

Hospital help
Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center also assists cancer patients by linking clinical social workers with patients. Based on the patients' needs, the social workers help them identify appropriate community resources, including financial and community support programs, transportation, lodging and home health or hospice care. M.D. Anderson negotiates discounts with airlines, hotels and ground transportation for patients and their caregivers.

"We have a large operation for providing financial assistance [for those] that can't otherwise pay for their care," said Dr. Lewis Foxhall, an M.D. Anderson physician and director of the Texas Cancer Data Center.

Conquering cancer
Smith would like to one day expand the Cancer Services Network model to San Angelo, Lubbock and Midland.

"We need the same kind of service that we're doing in all those areas," Smith said.

The TCC gives $2,000 annual grants to four nonprofit cancer support programs, including Cancer Care Services and Candlelighters of El Paso, with funds obtained from the sale of special "Texans Conquer Cancer" license plates through the Texas Department of Transportation.

Osmond said Cancer Care Services could be a model for the state.

"We love the program in Fort Worth," Osmond said. "I wish we could clone them throughout Texas."

Karen Hudgins

Cancer resources

Texas cancer patients and their families and loved ones can find information and assistance from a variety of programs, agencies and resources.

  • Texas Cancer Council - promotes cancer prevention, early diagnosis, treatment and awareness.
    Phone: 512-463-3190
    Web site: www.texascancercouncil.org

  • Texas Health Insurance Risk Pool - nonprofit pool that provides health insurance for Texans who, due to medical conditions, are unable to obtain insurance from commercial insurers.
    Phone: 1-888-398-3927
    Web site: www.txhealthpool.org

  • Texas Data Cancer Center - provides free information on health professionals, health facilities, demographics, statistics and community resources.
    Phone: 713-792-2277
    Web site: www.txcancer.org

  • Texas Cancer Registry/Texas Department of Health - collects cancer data and maintains a statewide population-based cancer registry.
    Phone: 800-252-8059
    Web site: www.tdh.state.tx.us/tcr/default.htm