Financial help available for uninsured with cancer

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Ted Eckhardt worked all his life, paid his bills, loves life and loves his wife. He never expected to find himself on the receiving end of a cancer diagnosis while uninsured.

"I've been working since I was 14-years-old, paying taxes and doing what I was suppose to do, and now, here I am - between jobs and out of insurance," Eckhardt said.

His doctors say he needs expensive chemotherapy.

His wife, Dana broke the cost of cancer down.

"The number was $6,500, or more, per session, and it started out at six sessions, then it's nine, now it's 12.  65 times, that is a lot of money... around $80,000," she explained.

Dana Ekchardt says her family falls into a common gap.

"We do have a house and a 401K, like most folks. To get Medicaid or Medicare, you have to be destitute or older. You can't just be 50 and worked your whole life," she said.

"You're on your own, essentially." Dr Jay Wolfson, Professor of Public Health with USF said.  

The Eckerhardts and others like them have a number of options, starting with subsidized health insurance on the exchange. Patients can also work with financial counselors like Florida Cancer Specialists' Christy Banach. 

"We have a lot of resources with the pharmaceutical companies who provide compassionate drugs for patients who qualify financially. We were able to obtain some of those drugs for Ted, which reduced his out of pocket cost," she said. "We have a sliding scale discount fee, so based on their household size and income, we are able to reduce their cost 25- 35- 45-percent."

Dana says financial counselors were able to reduce the cash cost from $6,500 to $700 per treatment. 

Dr. Wolfson said patients who own their home or have other assets can leverage those against the cost of  treatment, or if they have full life insurance policies, they can work out an advance payment on the equity value.

"You make them the beneficiary and then you can do what you wish with the money," Dr. Wolfson added.

Dr. Richard Knipe, Ted's medical oncologist said he's never had to turn a patient away due to finances.

"We've always found a way to make it work, and I hope, until I retire, I am able to continue to say that," he said.

But if it gets so bad that patients have to choose between paying for a treatment and buying food, the Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation can step in and help with non-medical expenses. Valerie Vance heads up the foundation.

"We pay up to $1,500 per year, per patient. It's not a situation where we pay a large sum of money, but it is enough to help that patient get over the hump of some financial difficulties," Vance explained. 

Dana and Ted are thankful for all the help they've received so far, but still have to find 25,000 for radiation. They're thinking about reaching out to strangers by setting up a GoFundMe page.

"We're going to fight. We'll find avenues available to us," Dana said.

Ted added, "I'll get through this." 

Many patients seek assistance from religiously affiliated charities and service organizations like Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Services and Methodist Ministries. There are also some government resources available like the Hillsborough County Health Plan. A person can also look to join a clinical trial at a medical facility and most health care related to the trial is free.

If you'd like to see the full interview with Jay Wolfson of USF Health, go to Linda Hurtado's Facebook page,