Anonymous Donor Creates a Safety Net

January 2009 – Medication co-payments, doctor visit charges, monthly insurance premiums – even in hard economic times, many working people manage to meet these expenses by carefully watching their budgets and spending wisely.

But when a cancer diagnosis is added to the mix, even the most frugal can run into problems. Suddenly, there is more of everything – more medicines to buy, more visits to doctors, more gas consumed driving to appointments. If a world-class facility like the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine isn’t nearby, there are lodging expenses to consider. And patients may have to pay their full insurance premiums when they are unable to work during treatment – or they may lose their jobs entirely.

For patients with lymphoma at Siteman, a new patient care fund is helping those who face financial hardships as a result of their cancer diagnoses. A generous $100,000 contribution from a family that wishes to remain anonymous is making the monetary grants possible.

“The donors have firsthand knowledge of lymphoma because a family member was treated for it at Siteman,” says medical oncologist Nancy Bartlett, MD, Koman Chair of Medical Oncology at Washington University, who specializes in treating lymphoma. “They understand the physical and psychological stress such a diagnosis represents for both the patient and family. They couldn’t imagine going through this ordeal unable to pay bills or having to make treatment decisions based on financial circumstances. They wanted to ease those worries for patients.”

According to social worker Anne Rihanek, the fund is designed to help patients through a crisis or until other resources are identified. “Resources to pay for a few months of medical insurance, gas or lodging aren’t easy to find,” she says. “Many times, people in these circumstances aren’t eligible for government programs, and they don’t need assistance over the long term. But during treatment, they struggle over whether to pay for their anti-nausea medications, buy groceries or pay the electric bill. And those are the people we can help.”

Generally, patients at around 300 percent of the poverty level – about $31,200 annual earnings for an individual and $63,600 for a family of four – are eligible for grants of up to $1,500. In addition, grants for mileage reimbursement may be made for up to $500. Grants to patients receiving both mileage and support for other expenses are capped at $1,500.

Bartlett notes these funds also could help patients participating in the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage program. “There’s a point in these programs called the ‘doughnut hole,’ when a person reaches the initial coverage limit and then is responsible for the next $3,600 in costs before catastrophic coverage kicks in,” she explains. “Senior citizens on a fixed income often have no idea where that money will come from. Our patient-care fund could eliminate at least some of that worry for them.”

The lymphoma fund already has provided prescription medication for one patient and helped another with payments to continue group insurance coverage under an employer’s plan, also called COBRA payments.

Stacy Guadagano, senior director of development for Siteman, says other cancer patient populations could benefit from similar funds. “Anyone facing a serious disease like cancer can suffer unexpected expenses and emotional stress. We at Siteman are heartened by and grateful for the generous spirit of those who want to help alleviate these stresses. They help us better care for our patients.”

Click here for information about making a gift to the Siteman Cancer Center.