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Managing Cancer and Money

Posted 7/15/2015

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  Having cancer is expensive. In addition to uncovered medical costs (co-pays, deductibles, out of network appointments), there are usually additional expenses related to just getting through these difficult months. Extra bills can include things like more child care or other household help, sending out the laundry, more take out meals, gas, parking at the hospital, etc. This is all unpleasantly balanced by a likely reduction in income due to missed work or disability payments that are always lower than regular salary.

  My friend and colleague in Annapolis, Maryland, Ashley Varner, wrote this excellent piece for her institution and agreed to let me use it. So, thanks, Ashley, for being a guest blogger.

8 Tips for Managing Money when Diagnosed with Cancer
When you, a family member or friend is diagnosed with cancer, money is usually not the first thought that comes to mind. For many individuals, however, thoughts about money, insurance coverage, and income maintenance are part of the second wave of questions. The following tips may be helpful to keep a handle on the financial aspects of treatment.
1. Don’t be afraid to talk about the cost of treatment.  Knowledge is power, and it’s important to know what to expect from treatment, both in terms of physical and financial side effects. If your provider doesn’t raise the issue of cost you can.  
2. Call your health insurance company and request an insurance case manager. An insurance case manager will be one individual with whom you can communicate to clarify your insurance coverage. Some health insurance companies automatically assign an insurance case manager to individuals with cancer or other chronic illness, and many will if requested.  This single point-of-contact with the health insurance company allows you to build a relationship and keeps you from having to explain your situation each time you call.
3. Educate yourself on your health insurance coverage. Many of us don’t have reason to know much about our coverage until we get sick. Make sure you know the basic terminology of health insurance such as “deductible,” “co-pay,” “co-insurance,” and “out-of-pocket maximum.”  This will allow you to better understand what the cost of care may be. A simple glossary can be found here: http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/SBCUniformGlossary.pdf 
4. Identify a friend or family member to help you keep medical bills organized. Keeping up with the Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) statements from your health insurance company and matching them to the bills received from multiple providers can be an overwhelming task. Friends and family are often anxious to help in some way. Asking someone you trust to keep track of this aspect of your care can benefit both of you. 
5. Recognize that in today’s healthcare system, you will receive bills from MANY providers. For instance, if your treatment includes surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation, you will receive a separate bill from each of the providers as well as from the hospital and possibly from other providers including laboratories and radiologists. If you have a question about a bill, it’s important to have the bill in front of you and call the correct provider.
6.  Consider completing Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) paperwork. Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law requiring covered employers to provide employees job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. This leave can be taken as little as an hour at a time or can be taken all at once. Once the paperwork is completed, either for a family caregiver or a patient, their job is protected, meaning the employer is restricted from terminating the individual while on FMLA leave.
7.  If employed, explore your employer-sponsored disability benefits and/or leave bank. Cancer care can and usually does require missing at least some work. Ask your Human Resources representative what resources may be available to you to help bridge income when you are not at work.
8. Take advantage of the resources available. For many, the experience of not knowing what to expect with regard to money and/or not having enough money is a new one. If you have questions or concerns, please ASK. The oncology social worker on the team is a good starting place for general questions about how to make ends meet. He or she can be a listening ear and direct you to additional resources based on your situation.   


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