Understanding the Costs Related to Cancer
When you hear a diagnosis of cancer, your number one concern may be your health and how it will affect you and your family. Although the financial aspect of cancer is probably not part of your initial thoughts, it can have a great impact on your overall health, happiness and well-being and so it deserves significant attention. This guide will help you learn about the various types of costs related to cancer and offer practical tips on how you can manage these costs before, during and after treatment.
Types of Costs Related to Cancer
The financial burden of cancer includes a wide range of typical expenses. Some of these expenses will seem obvious to you and others may not. Understanding all of the costs is the first step in preparing for them. Once you know what to expect during your treatment and recovery, you can plan your budget and determine what kind of financial assistance you may need. Costs related to cancer vary from person to person, primarily according to the type of cancer, the recommended treatment plan, follow-up care and level of insurance coverage.
Cancer-related costs affect your household budget in two ways. First, you will have new categories of expenses, such as office and/or clinic visits, treatments, drugs, and caregiving. Second, your routine living expenses will increase because of new necessities related to your care, such as transportation and travel-related expenses; child or elder care; meal preparation; housecleaning services; and employment, legal and financial services.
It may be difficult, but you may also want to set aside money to enjoy special activities or trips with family or friends to help ease a difficult time.
These additional expenses have a substantial effect on their own, but the effect is often greater because at the same time, your income may be reduced when you (or your significant other) are unable to work the same number of hours during your treatment.
Prepare for Your Expenses
Once you start thinking about cancer-related costs, it is easy to become overwhelmed. But you can alleviate some of this stress if you take control from the beginning and gain a better understanding of the costs and ways to manage them. Start by listing your sources of income as well as your medical expenses, both actual and estimated, to prepare for the financial road ahead. Next, create a budget that accounts for your medical expenses as well as for decreases in income due to less time working.
Don’t take on the analysis burden alone: Ask a family member or another loved one you trust to help you with reviewing your income and expenses. When working on a budget, it may be helpful to include estimated and actual income and expenses, at least for the first few months. Reviewing the differences between the estimated and actual totals will help you make better estimates for future months.
An example budget worksheet is provided here. The need for an updated and ongoing budget is just one piece of the additional paperwork created by a cancer diagnosis. You can find tips on how to manage cancer-related paperwork here.
Talk to Your Health Care Team
It is vital to talk to your health care team about costs from the beginning. Do not be embarrassed; your health care team understands that cancer treatment can be expensive and may create financial hardship.
It is crucial to review your health insurance policy and ask the financial staff at your doctor’s office for help in understanding what is covered and what your out-of-pocket expenses may be. Unfortunately, most people today do not fully understand their insurance plan until they are faced with a medical crisis – at the time when understanding your financial responsibilities is imperative. You can find information on handling insurance matters here.
Do not delay or cancel treatment because of cost. Talk to your doctor and health care team about alternative options that may be less expensive but as effective. Avoid selecting a treatment choice on the basis of cost; your priority should be effectiveness. Choose the treatment with the most likelihood of effectiveness and then focus on getting financial assistance. Chemotherapy given in your doctor’s office or clinic is usually covered by medical insurance, but oral drugs are covered through the insurer’s prescription benefit program. In either case you may have to pay out-of-pocket expenses. Fortunately, most drug companies may be able to offer financial assistance for both intravenous and oral anticancer drugs. These programs allow you to choose the most effective treatment that your doctor has recommended and provide assistance in paying for it. You can find these programs in the Getting Help section.
Seek Financial Assistance
There are hundreds of resources for financial assistance in a variety of categories, including child care, personal items (wig, mastectomy bras, ostomy supplies, etc.), counseling services, legal help, wish fulfillment, and transportation. Find out who manufactures your prescription anticancer drug and see if the company offers a patient assistance program. Search for resources that are a best match for your needs. In addition, many advocacy groups and other nonprofit organizations will help you find sources of financial assistance. Social workers, financial counselors, and patient navigators at your medical facility can refer you to local organizations that can help. Don’t forget family and friends—they can help you search for financial assistance and can offer advice on what would be most helpful for you and your family.
As you begin your search for final assistance, make sure you learn about federal laws that offer benefits, protect from loss of health insurance, and guard against discrimination on the basis of your health. Descriptions of several relevant federal laws can be found here. Also, if you have not already drafted a will and advance directives, you should not put off these tasks any longer. The importance of estate planning is discussed here.