Managing Financial Matters During Cancer

February 19, 2019

Organization and help are crucial in managing finances during cancer treatment.

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 bills into groups, such as medical bills, household bills, credit card statements, taxes and so on. Also, they can look for any benefit checks and help get them deposited quickly.

Rank the bills in order of priority. For most people, health insurance premiums, food, medicines and utilities will be near the top of the list.

Negotiate for smaller payments. Often, creditors will work with patients. Most creditors prefer that people in debt make small payments rather than pay nothing at all.

Work out a payment plan. Organizations, such as the Consumer Credit Counseling Service (now called CredAbility), 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 might be able to point out sources of financial aid.

Make a Financial Plan

Ask the hospital about financial counseling. Some hospitals offer free financial counseling to patients.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 health care costs;
  • A disruption in work schedule; and
  • Home services, such as cooking or cleaning.

Some of these costs can be difficult to estimate. Patients might want to discuss them with their doctors so they can plan accurately.

To start a financial plan, patients should take four steps:

  1. Estimate their expenses.
  2. Identify sources of income and benefits.
  3. Manage their savings and investments.
  4. Plan their estate.

Help for Patients

The costs of cancer treatment can quickly become overwhelming, even for patients who have medical insurance. Patient assistance programs are offered by various companies, nonprofits and government agencies to help patients with little or no insurance get access to drugs and money for other treatment-related expenses.

If patients are interested in enrolling in a patient assistance program, they must first gather information, usually from their doctor or care team. In most cases, the patient will need to fill out an application from the drug manufacturer. A doctor must be involved in the process because the physician writes the prescription for the medication.

Many patient assistance applications will require proof of income, including tax returns, Social Security income, interest and retirement income, to prove financial burden and meet income requirements. In addition to many state governments, numerous organizations provide information on patient assistance programs.

Tackling financial issues can be a challenge for anyone. Cancer treatments sometimes leave patients little energy to think about money matters. If it’s more difficult to address some topics than others, they should take on the easier ones first.

Being in treatment can mean dealing with added expenses that might be quite high. At the same time, a patient’s income could go down if their work hours are reduced or they are unable to work.

Patients should make a budget using numbers that are based on the maximum out-of-pocket expenses for their existing health care plan, plus something for charges above and beyond the covered expenses.