To get the best care possible, many cancer patients need to travel out-of-state for treatments, surgeries and even second opinions. Being away from your family and your routine is not only difficult, it's expensive. One recent study found that people with cancer were 2.65 times more likely to declare bankruptcy than people without cancer. Fortunately, there is help, even for patients who decide to travel for care.
1. Dozens of organizations offer free air travel services for cancer patients, many on private jets.
After my husband had emergency brain surgery in Texas, I had to figure out a way to get him back home to Maryland. We connected with Corporate Angel Network, as they arrange free travel on corporate jets for cancer patients, bone marrow donors and bone marrow recipients.
Most groups who offer free flights require that the patient be ambulatory (able to walk and get into/out of the plane with little or no assistance) and be medically stable as the pilots are not able to provide any medical assistance. For a listing of organizations that provide free air travel to cancer patients, visit CancerHawk.com.
2. Ask the hospital or cancer center (that you're traveling to) if they have a travel program.
Many of the larger hospital centers have Patient Travel Programs whereby they can offer discounts on unrestricted, changeable, non-penalty airfares and change fee waivers on restricted fares from anywhere in the United States.
Additionally, airlines such as Southwest partner with many hospitals and cancer centers to offer free, round trip flights to cancer patients traveling for treatment. Ask the Travel/Concierge Service or Patient Assistance Department at the hospital center you are traveling to if you qualify.
3. Free or reduced cost lodging may be available.
These extended stay facilities aim to create a home-like environment for traveling cancer patients and families at little or no cost. Unlike a hotel, these facilities provide opportunities to connect with others going through similar stressful situations.
Hope Lodge -- The American Cancer Society Hope Lodge provides free, temporary housing to patients and families who need to travel out of state for cancer treatments. There are currently 31 Hope Lodge locations throughout the United States. Accommodations and eligibility requirements vary by location.
Ronald McDonald House Charities -- Ronald McDonald House provides housing and accommodations for little to no cost to families of pediatric patients 18 years of age and younger. Some locations will accept pediatric patients up to 21 years of age.
Healthcare Hospitality Network (Formerly known as the National Association of Hospital Hospitality Houses) -- The Healthcare Hospitality Network, Inc. is an association of nearly 200 nonprofit organizations that provide free or significantly reduced cost lodging and supportive services for families receiving medical care away from home. Typical housing offers shared kitchens, common living areas and private bedrooms.
Fisher Houses -- Fisher House provides free lodging to military families (including veterans) who are being treated at military medical centers. There is at least one Fisher House at every major military medical center across the country
4. If you opt to book your own hotel, ask for a "medical rate."
Many medical centers have arrangements with nearby hotels to offer a "medical rate" which is usually quite a bit lower than the hotel's "standard rate."
Joe's House -- Joe's House works with hotels and other lodging facilities to provide medical discounts to cancer patients. This site connects users to thousands of places across the country near hospitals and treatment centers along with details on amenities, rates, reservation methods and requirements are available. Users may search for accommodations by city or proximity to a cancer treatment center or hospitals. Joe's House works with hotels and other lodging facilities to centralize inventory and provide medical discount to cancer patients.
Hospital Traveler -- Hospital Traveler is a free travel service that has access to almost 50,000 hotels strategically located near medical centers, discount airfare and discount car rental services. Their Reservation Specialists can also assist eligible Medicaid and private insurance recipients in using their health care benefits as payment for medical travel reducing the out of pocket medical expense.
5. You may qualify for a grant to help defray travel-related expense.
Just as there are prescription assistance funds that help qualifying patients get the medications they need, there are organizations that help cancer patients defray the cost of cancer-related travel. Specific areas of assistance might include: airline tickets and gas cards; money to cover the cost of hotels and food at local area restaurants; and food vouchers to hospital cafeterias. Below are just a few of the many organizations that award grants to individual cancer patients for treatment-related travel.
CancerCare offers funding to defray travel expenses for some cancer patients. If they do not have funding to assist you, their professional oncology social workers will work to refer you to other financial assistance resources.
Alex's Lemonade Stand awards travel grants up to $2,000 to families of pediatric cancer patients who meet certain criteria.
Eric D. Davis Foundation (Provide for the Assist Fund) awards grants to adult sarcoma patients to cover the costs for transportation, lodging, meals and even childcare during long distance treatment.
The Butterfly Fund assists needy families of children and young adults with brain and spinal cord tumors with travel and lodging expenses associated with seeking and/or obtaining treatment at locations outside of the patient's city or state.
Do you have any tips for reducing the cost of cancer-related travel? If so, please share them. By doing so, you might just make someone else's cancer journey a little easier and a little less expensive. xo