HOUSTON – Christmas is Sherry Sims' favorite holiday, but this year is tougher than ever. Her husband of 10 years, Miles, is battling lung cancer and it's spread to his spine and brain.
"You handle it 'cause you have to and you want to try to make them comfortable," Sims said.
To make matters worse, Sims spent the last year battling breast cancer. Her focus should be only on her husband, but now she's struggling with all of their mounting medical bills.
"People always say, ‘Don't worry about it. Just pay a couple bucks a month. The hospital will be fine with it,' but that is not at all the way that it is," Sims said.
Even with insurance, most patients have a financial responsibility, either a co-pay or co-insurance.
"We've paid $52,000 so far out of pocket. One of the most shocking ones was about $7,000 for a giant surgery that was actually our portion," Sims said.
They've sold Miles' truck, their pontoon boat and golf clubs to pay for medical bills.
"It's a death sentence for your finances, whether you survive it or not," Sims said.
Jackie Weber is a cancer survivor and a patient advocate. She said there is financial assistance available.
"It is challenging. You're so focused on the treatment and getting better and you kind of put it aside," Weber said. "We do work with our patients and there are financial screening processes we can go through to see if there are programs we can qualify for."
One of those programs is through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It gave out millions of dollars last year to help patients afford their treatment.
"Without that co-pay assistance, they would not be able to afford their medication," LLS executive director Kelley Lesperance said.
Keep in mind that you must qualify. Meeting the income requirements has been the problem for the Sims family.
"We were just kind of stuck in the middle and just didn't qualify for anything," Sims said.
Most hospitals have financial counselors to guide patients through the process and to identify programs for which they may qualify. Be sure to set up a meeting with your hospital's counselor to go over the options.
Here’s a list of groups that can help with financial assistance to patients: