If you’ve been through cancer, you know it’s not just the challenges to your health that are difficult to manage. Depending on your insurance, the costs of cancer can also be a huge burden on patients and their families. Worrying about finances is the last thing you need while trying to get well, so I gathered some tips that I hope will help.
1. Talk to your insurance company. As early as you can, find out what your insurance covers. See if you can be assigned a case manager, so you can talk to the same person every time you call. Ask about cancer treatments, hospital stays, prescriptions, potential home care, whatever you think you may need. Ask your doctor and nurse for help on what expenses you may incur. If you have limited or no insurance, contact your state or local department of social services for information on public health programs.
2. Check financial aid programs. Fortunately, there are a lot of financial aid programs for cancer patients. For those with blood cancers, check the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Other organizations that offer financial assistance include CancerCare, the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition (CFAC), the American Cancer Society, the Patient Advocate Foundation, and many other programs listed here at the National Cancer Institute, and here at CancerLinkUSA.
3. Stay on top of your credit. If you get into trouble and can’t pay your bills, don’t wait-talk to your creditors early, let them know what’s going on, and work to negotiate lower payments. A nonprofit credit counseling service may be able to help. You may be able to get a disability waiver for your mortgage, car loan, or other debts. Your utility company may have financial assistance programs as well.
4. Create a new budget. Talk with your family on where you can cut expenses, and make a monthly budget. Things are going to change, and you can’t help that. Making a plan can help you feel more in control. Do you have money saved that you can use if you have to? Do you have assets you can sell or liquidate? What monthly expenses can you reduce? Try to sit down and calmly discuss your options.
5. Be willing to accept help. Sometimes we have a hard time accepting help from people who care about us. It could be our pride talking, or it might be that we just don’t want to be a “burden.” But remember, if someone offers you financial help, you’ll be helping them if you take it. People like to help, and it feels good to help others. Someday the tables may be turned, so nod your head, say “thank you,” and be happy for the assistance.
6. Understand your rights. You may be entitled to unpaid leave from your job. If you have to leave work, you may be able to keep your healthcare coverage for up to three years. If you change jobs, a federal law called HIPAA can protect you from being denied coverage. Never assume-always find out about your rights.
7. Get organized. Dealing with cancer involves a lot of paperwork. If you’re not organized, you’ll soon feel overwhelmed. Find a filing cabinet or something similar where you can keep track of insurance information, notes from doctors visits, copies of test results, support organizations, and more.
8. Check with your accountant about taxes. Many of your cancer treatments may be deductible. Place a call to your accountant-he or she can tell you how to keep track of those expenses you can be reimbursed for. Keep and file all medication receipts and bills.
9. Consider a fund-raising event. You or a loved one may be interested in holding a fund-raising event to help with finances. The Patient Advocate Foundation has some great ideas for how you can best do that.
10. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. You may feel uncomfortable talking about your finances with others. It may have never been necessary before. But trust me, the more you do it, the more comfortable you will become, and whatever discomfort you have to go through at first, it will be worth it to stay on top of your finances. Talk to your doctor, your accountant, a financial advisor, your friends, your family, your boss, your creditors, a social worker, financial aid organizations, your insurance company, everyone who might be able to help. This is not the time to go it alone!
How did you manage your finances during cancer? Please share any tips you may have.
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