A diagnosis of cancer affects more than patients’ health—it also affects their money. Dealing with financial issues, and possibly debt, at the same time patients are coping with cancer treatment can be difficult and draining. But there are ways to lessen the burden:
Ask friends and loved ones for help. Have someone open and organize the bills into groups, such as medical bills, household bills, credit card statements, taxes and so on. Also, look for any benefit checks. Often, these get lost in the stack of bills.
Rank the bills in order of priority. Place medical expenses, rent or mortgage payments, utilities and taxes at the top of the list.
Negotiate for smaller payments. Often, creditors will work with patients. Most creditors prefer that they make small payments rather than pay nothing at all.
Work out a payment plan. Organizations, such as the Consumer Credit Counseling Service, can help patients negotiate a payment plan to satisfy their creditors.
Talk with an oncology social worker. These specialists can help with financial issues and may be able to point out sources of financial aid.
Ask the hospital about financial counseling. Some hospitals offer free financial counseling to patients.
Make a Financial Plan
A sound plan means always preparing for the worst while hoping it never happens. When patients are going into treatment, it’s good to plan for:
> The highest out-of-pocket medical expenses;
> Travel costs;
> The greatest number of hospital stays;
> High prescription drug costs;
> Experimental therapy not covered by insurance;
> Home healthcare costs;
> A disruption in work schedule; and
> Home services, such as cooking or cleaning.
Some of these costs may be hard to estimate. Patients might want to discuss them with their doctors so they can plan accurately.
To start a financial plan, patients need to take four steps:
1. Estimate their expenses.
2. Estimate their sources of income and benefits.
3. Manage their savings and investments.
4. Plan their estate.
Tackling financial issues can be a challenge for anyone. Cancer treatments may leave patients little energy to think about money matters. If it’s more difficult to address some topics than others, take on the easier ones first.
Being in treatment may mean dealing with added expenses that could be quite high. At the same time, patients’ income may go down if they reduce their work hours or are unable to work. Patients should make a budget using numbers that are based on the maximum out-of-pocket expenses for their existing healthcare plan, plus something for charges above and beyond the covered expenses.
Adapted with permission of the American Cancer Society