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The Financial Side of Cancer


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This morning, I joined Dr. Nancy Snyderman – author of Medical Myths That Can Kill You – on Today to talk about the number one cause of bankruptcy in the country.  If you watched the video above, you know it’s not unaffordable mortgages or even credit card debt.  

It’s illness. And cancer patients are suffering. They’re having trouble paying for life-saving care – running up large debts, filing for personal bankruptcy and even delaying or forgoing potentially life-saving treatment. Even having private health insurance (that you purchased or receive through your employer) isn’t enough to save you.

A new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the American Cancer Society notes that cancer patients in particular suffer financially because: 

So what are patients – and the people who love them – supposed to do?

Talk to your doctor. When you receive a diagnosis, sit down with your doctor with pencil and paper – it’s very difficult to remember things when you’re under stress – and ask:

  1. What type of treatment will I need
  2. What are the side effects in relation to my job? And how can these be managed?
  3. If I’m worried about managing the costs of care.  Who can help me?

Take that information to your benefits department, or if you work for yourself or a small company without a benefits department, talk to your insurer directly. You need to understand what is covered under your plan, what sort of pre-approvals you will need, how you can best work within their process to get your claims paid, and – if you can – find a person within that insurer that you can talk to if and when you have questions. The sad thing about health insurance, although it’s such a necessity these days, is that most people spend less than an hour deciding which of the plans they are offered makes sense for them. And very few people read the manual until they need it. We’ll have another open enrollment period in the fall, and it makes sense to spend a little time making sure you’re on the best plan for you and your family.

If you don’t have health insurance – if you’re one of the 45 million people without – understand that there is a much bigger, more democratic market for policies for individuals. A high deductible policy, which won’t cover your occasional visits to the physician, but will step in to help protect you from financial ruin if you’re facing cancer, is much more affordable and available than it used to be. Go to ehealthinsurance.com to get started.

Also know that there is a network of organizations that offer financial assistance for everything from travel (including corporate jets, private pilots and transportation for families of the patient as well as the patient), housing (there is a network of more than 150 nonprofits that provide lodging and support to people receiving treatment away from home), medication (through various prescription assistance groups), and out-of-pocket medical costs that insurance doesn’t cover.  Go to cancer.net or cancercare.org for comprehensive lists.

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