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Coping with the Financial Side of Cancer

| June 30, 2018
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A few months back, we received a friendly request from a man named John (whose name has been changed, per his request). John worked closely with a website that helps cancer patients get the necessary information they need while undergoing their difficult illness, and he had a request. He wanted us to add his article on Financial Tips for Living with Cancer[1] to our website resources. While on the website reading his article (which you should definitely check out in the above hyperlink), we learned about his own story.

John began his career in high school in the blue collar town of Williamson, WV. After his father passed away at a young age, John had to begin working to help his family as soon as he was able to. He got his first job in construction helping to tear down buildings, which was when he first got exposed to asbestos. After high school, he obtained the necessary skills to become a full time mechanic, where he got his second exposure to asbestos (through his work on hood liners, brakes, and clutches which contained the harmful material). After many years of exposure, he developed a nasty cough that only got worse with time. At just 50 years old, he was diagnosed with Pleural Mesothelioma.

As if dealing with this terrible cancer was not hard enough, John also had the financial aspect to cope with as well, made even more difficult due to his lack of health insurance. John did his research, not wanting to give up hope to pay for his treatment. He eventually found financial support through the National Cancer Institute, but by that time, his treatment options were limited. However, John is still fighting, still living his life to the fullest, but now his goal is to get his story out to the world so people living with cancer can be proactive in coping with the financial difficulties which arise from their illness. 

Thus, we decided to write our own article as well (utilizing John’s article as a guide, since many of the tips he discussed are ones that ring true). In this article, we will discuss several of these tips in further detail.

1. Understanding Your Treatment Plan

Dealing with cancer is exhausting, not only emotionally, but also financially. It is made laborious by the fact that a variety of treatments may be necessary, from doctor visits to chemotherapy, radiation, and other procedures to medications, all of which have differing costs and timetables for recovery (which may affect your ability to go back to work).

It is critical that you stay organized during this process. The medical community is focused on your care (and typically less focused on the costs of such care), and thus it is important for you to ask as many questions as possible. Remember to discuss the entire treatment plan with your doctor from the onset (along with any alternatives depending on outcomes).

2. Understand Your Insurance Coverage

Now that you understand your treatment plan (and any alternatives), this will allow you to go to your insurance company and understand what will be covered by your insurance, and what you will need to pay out of pocket. Discuss each procedure/medication so there are no surprises (at the very least, the more important procedures and medications), and add up the costs (if there are alternatives, do the same for each alternative as well).

The worst thing you can do is to not go into a situation with open eyes and decide on a treatment option that costs tens of thousands of dollars in out of pocket costs when there may have been a viable (and less expensive) alternative.

3. Discuss "In-Network" Care & Pre-Authorization

If your insurance has preferred doctors or networks (“in-network”), you should make sure your doctor is considered part of your insurance’s network – otherwise your out of pocket bill may be much higher. You should also make sure that you get pre-authorization for any and all treatment that requires it – you do not want to end up paying out of pocket because you missed this step.

4. Consider ACS for Guidance on Health Insurance

Understanding your coverage may require someone who is arm’s length from the insurance company. The American Cancer Society Health Insurance Assistance Service (HIAS) provides guidance on health insurance options to people affected by cancer: cancer patients, cancer survivors, individuals with cancer symptoms, and those calling on their behalf. You can reach out to them at 1-800-227-2345 (ask to speak to someone from HIAS).[2]

5. If you Expect to Miss Work, Check Your Disability Policy....

Cancer can sometimes strike individuals who are still working. In this case, you should consider whether you are entitled to receive some sort of income replacement, whether that is through disability insurance, or social security disability.

Disability insurance is considered an income replacement benefit if you get sick/injured and thus cannot work. There is both group disability (which you receive as a benefit through your employer) and individual disability (which you purchase yourself outside of work).

For many individuals working for larger companies, such workers are given both short and long term disability (this is not always the case – sometimes an election must be made to elect such disability or they must go through full underwriting first). Short term disability generally covers the first few months, while long term disability kicks in thereafter, and lasts typically until the individual is healthy enough to go back to work. Every policy is different, but generally group disability will cover 50-60% of your income.

It is important that you understand how the premiums are paid – if the disability benefits are provided by your company (you pay no premium), the benefits will be fully taxable. The opposite is true if you pay the premium – the benefits are tax-free. Disability is generally defined as either “own occupation” (the inability to work at your regular occupation even if you might still be able to do something else) or “any occupation” (the inability to work at any occupation).

Thus, it is important to understand each of the issues noted above, and thus 1) whether your cancer illness will keep you out of work and how it fits into the definition of disability in your policy, and if it does, 2) how much income will be replaced along with 3) will the benefits be taxed.

6. ....And Also Check Social Security Disability Too

There is always social security disability, which will allow you to begin drawing upon your social security benefits early if you qualify. Generally, your cancer must be severe enough to interfere with basic work related activities and long term enough that it will last more than one year. If this is the case, this is another avenue to consider.

7. If the Bills are Daunting, Reach Out to the World!

There are many organizations, including academic, government, community, and non-profit groups that offer resources and support for cancer patients. Some of these groups assist patients with any type of cancer, while others are dedicated to specific cancers. Contact these groups to find out how they can help you manage your finances and even get help paying for medical care and other expenses:

  • This non-profit offers financial assistance and other resources for cancer patients and their families. When you contact the group, you will get help from an oncology social worker.[3]
  • Medications can be very expensive, and NeedyMeds is a non-profit that helps all kinds of patients pay for the medications they need.[4]
  • Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition (CFAC).The CFAC is a group of nationwide organizations and has a searchable database of resources to help cancer patients cover costs of care.[5]
  • Corporate Angel Network (CAN).If you need to travel for treatment, this group will help find you empty seats on corporate and private planes for free.[6]
  • Hope Lodge.Founded by the American Cancer Society, this organization has 32 lodges around the country that are open to cancer patients and their families as places to stay for free when traveling for treatment.[7]
  • The Veterans Health Administration.If you served in the U.S. military, there is a good chance that your mesothelioma is a result of exposure to asbestos during service. You can file a claim with the VA to seek medical care and compensation.[8]

The emotional burden of living with cancer is bad enough – the last thing one needs is a financial burden as well. Hopefully, the tips above can help you navigate this very difficult time. If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel free to reach out.

[1]Financial Tips for Living with Cancer: https://mesothelioma.net/financial-tips-for-living-cancer/

[2]American Cancer Society Website: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/finding-and-paying-for-treatment/understanding-health-insurance/health-insurance-options/other-sources-of-insurance-information-links.html

[3]CancerCare Website: https://www.cancercare.org/

[4]NeedMeds Website: https://www.needymeds.org/

[5]Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition Website: https://www.cancerfac.org/

[6]Corporate Angel Network Website: http://www.corpangelnetwork.org/home

[7]Hope Lodge via American Cancer Society Website: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/support-programs-and-services/patient-lodging/hope-lodge.html

[8]The Veterans Health Administration Website: https://www.va.gov/health/

Karen DeRose and Anthony DeRose are registered representatives of Lincoln Financial Advisors.

Securities and advisory services offered through Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., a broker/dealer (Member SIPC) and registered investment advisor. Insurance offered through Lincoln affiliates and other fine companies. DeRose Financial Planning Group is not an affiliate of Lincoln Financial Advisors.

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