Serious health needs are a major concern for all Americans, which is part of the reason the Affordable Care Act (ACA) aims to provide lower-cost coverage for more Americans. Some people’s biggest health concern – and among the most expensive to treat – is cancer. Prior to the ACA, some Americans bought cancer insurance to make sure they would receive full treatment for the disease.

What Is Cancer Insurance?

Cancer insurance is a supplemental health insurance policy meant to accompany your normal health insurance, while reducing the amount you pay for cancer treatment. Cancer insurance rates vary, as does the coverage offered.

In general, cancer insurance covers both medical and non-medical expenses at some level. Medical expenses may include things a typical health insurance policy does not coverage, such as copayments, extended hospital stays, tests, and specific procedures to treat cancer. Non-medical benefits can include loss of income benefits, child care expenses, home health care and dietary aids.

It’s important to note that to be eligible for cancer insurance, you cannot have a pre-existing cancerous condition. You also cannot have been diagnosed with or treated for cancer in the past.

There is a lot of debate around disease-specific coverage like cancer insurance. In many cases, the coverage is similar or the same as your existing comprehensive health insurance. The ACA requires individual and small group plans to offer cancer screenings and essential health benefits that include most cancer treatment options. In some cases, since many comprehensive plans exclude coverage that can be gained through other means, purchasing a cancer insurance plan may actually reduce your coverage under a more comprehensive plan.  Many insurance policies have a “coordination of benefits clause.” This means that, in the event that a person has two health care plans, one policy does not have to cover expenses that the other plan covers.

Is Cancer Insurance Worthwhile?

Before deciding to purchase a cancer insurance policy, be sure to review all the offered coverage and make sure it makes sense for you based on the cancer insurance cost. You may gain some non-medical coverage, but does that justify the cancer insurance rate each month? If you are considering cancer insurance, be sure to shop around – cancer insurance rates and coverages vary and many plans are available.

Another consideration is reviewing whether it might be more reasonable to upgrade your current health insurance to a plan that may be more costly per month but would offer lower copayments and deductibles. The overall difference financially could be the same or less than adding a monthly cancer insurance cost. The Cancer Insurance Checklist can help you determine what coverage you may need and make sure it’s included in your policy.

Finally, you want to realistically assess your risk of cancer. Cancer is a very high-profile disease, leading Americans to be more afraid of it than other illnesses. This can cause you to over-estimate your chance of getting cancer, or under-estimate the coverage you will be able to obtain through your regular health insurance. Carefully consider your family history of cancer, and contact your current insurer to find out what your cancer coverage would be and what other plans might be available.

Comprehensive health insurance plans in the individual and small group markets are very robust, especially after the ACA. In most cases, your health insurance will offer coverage for any major illness, including cancer. Only you can decide if your risk warrants taking on an additional cancer insurance cost, but be sure to carefully review all of your options before you decide.