Patients should have a plan on tackling medical debt.
To steer clear of the avoidance trap, she suggests patients join a cancer support group, which can provide an encouraging environment in which they can feel safe enough to open up and learn how others in similar circumstances have managed. “Talking about feelings is easier than talking about money,” Buzaglo says.
She says patients should begin by setting up a spreadsheet detailing the date of service, the provider, the amount owed and whether the amount is in dispute. They should also keep a log of phone calls and never throw away anything. Many hospitals and physicians bill separately, so they will need to be contacted separately. As bills and insurance statements arrive in the mail, Buzaglo recommends putting them immediately into one place, even if patients aren’t in a position at the moment to sort and organize. Never ignore them. If patients have a friend or family member who is contacting insurance companies or providers on their behalf, it may be necessary to fill out forms giving them formal permission to speak on their behalf.
The fourth edition of Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Coping with the Cost of Care, provides information about how the healthcare reform legislation will impact cancer care, applying for various forms of government assistance, co-pay support and foundation programs, as well as multiple community resources. Download the book or order a print version from the Cancer Support Community website (cancersupportcommunity.org).
“I tell people that if they work with me, I will work with them, but people are so embarrassed,” says Rosalind Roberts, a clinical financial specialist at the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis. “These are the kind of people who have never asked for any kind of help. “Don’t be embarrassed,” she adds. “It’s not a stigma.”
The first and most important step people can take in developing a financial plan that deals with the financial toxicity of cancer care is to deal with avoidance, says the Cancer Support Community’s Joanne Buzaglo.
Frequently, people with health issues, such as cancer, will fret about the sorts of questions that might be asked by well-meaning colleagues, says Stephanie Smith, a licensed clinical psychologist who practices near Denver. “How much do I want to reveal to folks? How much do I want to keep private? How many times can I answer the same questions? It becomes a huge stressor.”