Do patients have to pay for clinical trials?

One of the questions most frequently asked by patients is, “Do I have to pay to participate in a clinical trial?” While patients typically will not incur expenses for taking part in a research study, in some instances, they may be responsible for copays and payments towards their deductible depending on their insurance plan.

Below, we will outline the line items typically covered by clinical trial sponsors, as well as those that health insurance may not cover, and how this may differ for paid clinical trial opportunities in some scenarios.

Do I have to pay to participate in a clinical trial? 

Every study is different, but clinical trial participants usually do not have to pay out-of-pocket costs to participate. Generally, the clinical trial sponsor will cover all research-related costs and any special testing or procedures that are required for participation. However, participants and/or their insurance companies may still be responsible for covering the costs of any routine tests, treatments, or procedures that would be required as part of their standard treatment plan.

Before enrolling in a clinical trial, individuals are provided with an informed consent document that details the study’s purpose, the potential risks and benefits of participation, and the costs that will be covered and what expenses, if any, may result from participation. Patients should review this document and ask questions about things that may be unclear, such as those relating to: 

Lab tests. Typically, an insurance company will not cover lab tests that are conducted for the sake of a trial, as these are generally checking for data instead of measuring health. However, these tests will typically be covered by the sponsor.

Travel costs and other expenses. When traveling for clinical trials, patients may have to spend money to get to the research site and pay for meals away from home. In some cases, the sponsor may offer reimbursement for these line items or offer transportation services directly.

Copays and deductibles. If a participant’s insurance plan requires them to pay co-pays and deductibles, those are costs that may be incurred for routine site visits, or they may be covered by the sponsor.

What about paid clinical trials?

For those interested in taking part in research studies, paid clinical trials can also be an option. The payment can vary depending on the clinical trial phases, with early-stage trials typically paying the most. While being paid for taking part in research may sound appealing, it is important to remember that early-stage clinical trials typically involve more risk than those in the later stages. Before joining a paid clinical trial, be sure to thoroughly review the informed consent documentation in order to understand all of the potential risks.

Sometimes, trials in the later stages may offer payment or travel reimbursement as well. These programs are often not included in outreach materials, as there are strict legal guidelines for clinical trial advertisements. The compensation offered can vary from site to site, but site staff will be able to share details as part of the informed consent process. 

Questions to ask about a clinical trial

Before taking part in a research study, individuals will be asked to review and sign an informed consent form that explains potential benefits, risks, and side effects that may be involved in the study. Potential participants can ask as many questions as they would like before enrolling in the trial — some that we recommend include:

  • What costs does the sponsor cover?
  • Will all visits be in-person at the site?
  • Will I be reimbursed for travel, meals, or childcare? If so, how?
  • If any insurance coverage is required, have other patients had issues getting their care covered?

If the study team says that insurance coverage may be a concern, participants can consider creating a packet of materials to submit to their insurance provider to showcase why the trial is right for them. The clinical coordinator of the study will often be able to assist with this, and these packets typically include:

  • Medical journal articles from prior studies that explain the potential benefit of the treatment.
  • A doctor’s letter that explains the trial or why the trial is medically necessary.
  • A letter from other outside supporters of the trial, such as a patient advocacy group.

It is important for clinical trial participants to understand the costs they’ll be responsible when participating in a clinical trial, but fortunately, the trial team is there to help. Interested in finding a clinical trial near you? Start your search below.