Does Medicare Cover Immunotherapy for Cancer Treatments?

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Russell Noga
by Russell Noga | Updated January 26th, 2024

When facing a cancer diagnosis, the question of treatment coverage is paramount. Does Medicare cover immunotherapy for cancer?

This article cuts through the complexity to answer just that, providing you with a clear understanding of Medicare coverage for this advanced treatment, what you might pay out of pocket, and additional support options available.


Key Takeaways

  • Medicare covers immunotherapy for cancer when deemed medically necessary, with out-of-pocket costs varying and dependent on the part of Medicare (A, B, or D) and additional plans like Medicare Advantage or Medigap.
  • Extra financial assistance for covering the out-of-pocket expenses of immunotherapy is available through Medigap plans, Medicare Advantage plans, government programs, and non-profit organizations.
  • While Medicare coverage for advanced cancer treatments like CAR-T cell therapy exists, it may be limited, making it essential for patients to discuss all options with healthcare providers and to stay informed on evolving Medicare policies.


Understanding Medicare’s Coverage of Immunotherapy Treatments


Does Medicare Cover Immunotherapy for Cancer Treatments? Understanding Medicare's Coverage of Immunotherapy Treatments


Medicare, a government-funded health insurance program, provides coverage for immunotherapy for cancer treatments when deemed medically necessary. The treatment can be administered in various settings, including clinics, doctor’s offices, or outpatient hospital units, and is covered by different parts of Medicare.

However, the out-of-pocket expenses for immunotherapy under Medicare can vary significantly, ranging from zero dollars to a maximum of $2,670 per infusion for Opdivo and $1,000 to $1,950 for each Keytruda infusion.

A Medicare Advantage plan, which serves as an alternative to Original Medicare, provides coverage for the same services as Part A and Part B.

These plans may also offer additional benefits, such as:


These additional benefits could enhance support for patients receiving immunotherapy.


Medicare Part A and Cancer Treatment Services

Medicare Part A provides coverage for:

  • Inpatient hospital services
  • Skilled nursing
  • Hospice
  • Home health care associated with cancer treatment


This part of Medicare ensures that patients who need to stay in a hospital for treatments, such as surgery, are financially covered.

Coverage extends to skilled nursing care, where Medicare covers all expenses for the initial 20 days. After this period, patients are responsible for out-of-pocket costs for the remainder of the stay, up to a 100-day limit.


Medicare Part B’s Role in Outpatient Care

Outpatient care greatly benefits from Medicare Part B, which covers services like:

  • chemotherapy drugs
  • radiation treatments
  • diagnostic tests
  • mental health services for cancer treatment


It ensures that patients receive the necessary treatments to treat cancer in outpatient clinics or doctor’s offices, as well as certain oral chemotherapy treatments.

This part of Medicare also covers diagnostic tests such as X-rays and CT scans, which are vital in determining the stage and progression of cancer. This way, accurate diagnoses are made, and the most effective treatment plans are chosen for patients.


The Scope of Medicare Part D with Prescription Drugs

Medicare Part D, which covers most prescription drugs, including cancer drugs, used in cancer treatment, is a significant aspect of Medicare’s coverage. This includes oral chemotherapy drugs, anti-nausea drugs, and other medications prescribed for cancer treatment that are administered outside of a healthcare facility.

Yet, the cost burden for patients’ cancer medications can hinge on the formulary’s organization, a complete list of medications approved for coverage by a Medicare Part D plan. Patients are advised to communicate with their plan provider to gain a comprehensive understanding of their coverage and anticipated costs.


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Navigating Out-of-Pocket Costs for Immunotherapy Under Medicare


Does Medicare Cover Immunotherapy for Cancer Treatments? Navigating Out-of-Pocket Costs for Immunotherapy Under Medicare


While the out-of-pocket expenses for immunotherapy under Medicare can be substantial, other coverage options are available to assist patients in managing these costs. Does Medicare cover immunotherapy treatments?

Medigap policies or Medicare Advantage plans have the potential to significantly decrease out-of-pocket expenses by covering expenses such as deductibles, coinsurance, and copays.

Medicare Advantage plans integrate Medicare Part A and Part B coverage and may provide supplementary benefits like prescription drug coverage. The specific coverage offered can differ among plans.

In addition to these options, various government programs and resources are available to help individuals with limited resources manage their out-of-pocket costs for immunotherapy.


How Medigap Plans Can Help


Does Medicare Cover Immunotherapy for Cancer Treatments? How Medigap Plans Can Help


Medigap, or Medicare supplement insurance, is designed to cover the gaps in Original Medicare parts A and B, including those related to immunotherapy. It can provide financial assistance for certain out-of-pocket expenses, including deductibles, coinsurance, and copays.

The cost associated with Medigap is the premium that beneficiaries are required to pay in order to sustain the supplemental coverage. By covering these additional expenses, Medigap can help make immunotherapy a more affordable treatment option for cancer patients.


Impact of Medicare Advantage Plans

Medicare Advantage Plans offer comprehensive coverage that integrates Medicare Part A and Part B, often including Part D as well. These plans cover 80% of the Medicare-approved amount for immunotherapy costs after the deductible is met.

Moreover, Medicare Advantage Plans offer additional benefits including:

  • Transitional hospice care
  • Cancer screenings
  • Care management
  • Financial navigation


Unlike Medicare Part D, which solely covers prescription drugs obtained at the pharmacy, Medicare Advantage plans encompass hospital and medical coverage and may include Medicare prescription drug coverage, making them a versatile option for cancer patients.


Immunotherapy Medications and Medicare Approval


Does Medicare Cover Immunotherapy for Cancer Treatments? Immunotherapy Medications and Medicare Approval


Medicare generally provides coverage for specific immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda and Opdivo when they are determined to be medically essential for the treatment of cancer. However, if a physician prescribes a dosage higher than the FDA’s recommendations for these drugs, Medicare may refuse to cover the treatment.

The cost of immunotherapy treatment varies, with Keytruda averaging $48,000 per patient for Medicare and Opdivo costing an average of $51,000 per patient in 2017. Before starting treatment, patients must grasp these costs and have a discussion with their healthcare provider.


Does Medicare Cover Immunotherapy for Cancer Treatments?

Special Considerations for Advanced Cancer Treatments


Does Medicare Cover Immunotherapy for Cancer Treatments? Special Considerations for Advanced Cancer Treatments


Medicare provides coverage for advanced cancer treatments like CAR-T cell immunotherapy in certain cases. This innovative treatment uses the patient’s immune system to kill cancer cells and fight cancer cells.

However, it comes with a hefty price tag, with the estimated cost of a single treatment reaching up to $1.5 million when factoring in tests and hospitalization.

While Medicare typically provides coverage for chemotherapy for advanced cancer patients, coverage may be restricted for certain advanced cancer treatments. Understanding these limitations and discussing all treatment options with their healthcare provider is vital for patients.


Comparing Coverage: Private Insurance Companies vs. Medicare

While Medicare offers coverage for immunotherapy treatments, private health insurance companies may provide different coverage options. The available coverage options may vary, with patient assistance programs and the Affordable Care Act mandating coverage for routine patient-care costs from in-network providers.

However, the out-of-pocket costs for immunotherapy can differ between private insurance and Medicare. Although Medicare covers immunotherapy, the costs depend on the specific plan and whether additional insurance is present.

Similarly, private insurance may have fluctuating out-of-pocket costs for immunotherapy.

Additional Support for Cancer Patients on Medicare

In addition to Medicare and private insurance, cancer patients can seek additional financial support from government and state programs, as well as non-profit organizations. These programs can provide significant financial support to help manage the costs associated with cancer treatment.

Non-profit organizations can offer financial aid resources, including co-payment assistance programs and grants, to help Medicare cancer patients with their immunotherapy costs.

In addition to these programs, organizations such as CancerCare provide information, resources, and limited financial aid to assist with cancer-related costs.


The Future of Immunotherapy and Medicare Coverage

As immunotherapy treatments continue to advance, Medicare coverage may evolve to include a wider range of treatment options and provide better support for cancer patients. It’s anticipated that immunotherapy drugs such as Keytruda and Opdivo will receive approval from Medicare in the near future.

However, for a new cancer treatment to be eligible for Medicare coverage, the treatment must be considered medically necessary and eligible for coverage under Part A or Part B of Original Medicare. Patients should keep abreast of these developments and have discussions with their healthcare provider.

Maximizing Your Medicare Benefits for Cancer Treatment

For cancer treatment, patients can maximize Medicare benefits by:

  • Examining all coverage options
  • Staying updated on changes in coverage and costs
  • Gaining a thorough understanding of the coverage of medically necessary cancer treatment supplies, services, and prescription drugs in Original Medicare


By following these steps, patients can effectively maximize the use of Medigap plans for cancer treatment.

Additionally, the benefits of Medicare Advantage plans for cancer treatment include:

  • Increased screening rates for cancer
  • Potential lower out-of-pocket costs
  • Improved access to care management and palliative care for beneficiaries with cancer
  • Medicare covers cancer treatments, ensuring financial support for patients


By being proactive and informed, patients can navigate the healthcare system and ensure they receive the best possible care.


In this blog post, we’ve explored the complex landscape of Medicare coverage for immunotherapy for cancer treatments.

We’ve discussed the different parts of Medicare and how they provide coverage, the potential out-of-pocket costs, and how these costs can be managed through Medigap and Medicare Advantage plans.

We’ve also delved into the coverage of specific immunotherapy medications, the considerations for advanced cancer treatments, and the differences in coverage between private insurance companies and Medicare.

Lastly, we’ve highlighted the additional support available for cancer patients on Medicare and discussed how to maximize Medicare benefits for cancer treatment.

As immunotherapy continues to advance, it’s essential for patients to stay informed and proactive in their healthcare journey.



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Frequently Asked Questions


  What cancer treatment does Medicare cover?

Medicare Part B covers most chemotherapy drugs, including those administered intravenously or orally, as well as radiation treatments and diagnostic tests in outpatient settings.


  Is cancer immunotherapy covered by insurance?

Cancer immunotherapy is covered by many private insurance plans, including Medicare Advantage plans and Medicaid, along with Medicare. However, coverage may vary, so it is important to review your specific plan.


  Does Medicare pay for Keytruda treatment?

Yes, Medicare Part B helps pay for Keytruda treatment as an outpatient prescription drug when used in the treatment of certain cancers, with a 20% coinsurance cost for beneficiaries after the deductible.


  What is Medigap?

Medigap, also known as Medicare supplement insurance, helps cover out-of-pocket costs for Original Medicare parts A and B, including those related to immunotherapy.


Find the Right Medicare Plan for You

Finding the right Medicare Plan in 2024 doesn’t have to be confusing. Whether it’s a Medigap plan, or you want to know more about Medicare cancer treatments, we can help.

Call us today at 1-888-891-0229 and one of our knowledgeable, licensed insurance agents will be happy to assist you!


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