It is hard to imagine anything more stressful, more overwhelming, more frightening, than a cancer diagnosis. No matter how calm and collected and well-informed you are, finding out you have cancer (of any sort), or that a loved one or family member has been stricken, is bound to be a life-changing event. Add to that the expenses involved in cancer care and a life-changing event can easily become a life-shattering event.
The expenses of treating and managing cancer are invariably higher than expected and all but impossible to control. If you have health insurance through an employer, you should have access to better support and protection, as there are many laws already in place regulating group coverage. Your employer may offer extra paid sick leave. If you work for a large enough company, or a public agency such as a local, state or federal employer or a school administration, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles you to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The Act also protects your health insurance and job. Be warned, however, that many, many smaller companies are not subject to the FMLA.
You already know that COBRA rules allow you or a loved one the right to continue employee group health insurance for up to 18 months (or longer, in some cases) at your own expense should you lose your job. And HIPPA regulations mean that employers cannot discriminate against a worker because of his or her health conditions. HIPPA also provides options for insurance coverage limiting exclusions and pre-existing conditions. This is not without cost, of course – having access to coverage does not necessarily mean that it’s free of charge.
If you are without health insurance and have been diagnosed with cancer, you may need assistance to cover the costs. As soon as possible, set up a meeting with a social worker or patient advocate – ask your doctor for guidance here, if necessary. You will need experienced help and assistance to navigate the system and find sources of financial support. Local hospitals will know about any charity care programs that can step in. There are also pharmaceutical and biotech companies that sponsor patient assistance programs to help with the costs of medications and drugs.
Sheryl M. Ness, RN, part of the terrific staff at the Mayo Clinic, has put together some great ideas and links to help with this process:
- Ask for help. Do not be ashamed or frightened to ask for support and guidance. No one plans to be diagnosed with cancer. Find an advocate or social worker to help you work your way through the health care system.
- Meet with the hospital or clinic business office. These are the people who can best help you understand and estimate the costs of care and treatment at the hospital or other facility where you are undergoing care.
- Track and document. Take and keep careful notes of all your conversations with your insurance carrier. Include dates and times of your conversations, and the names of anyone you speak with.
- Be organized. Keep a file of all your bills and correspondence relating to your care. Make copies of any paid items. Take notes.
- Be prepared. If you are pursuing any patient assistance programs, organize any documentation you will need to provide, including tax returns to show income levels, and documentation from your health care providers.
Here are some great resources – just click and go:
- Patient Advocate Foundation: www.patientadvocate.org
- Cancer Care: www.cancercare.org
- American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org
- The Chronic Disease Fund: www.cdfund.org
- National Patient Travel Center: www.patienttravel.org
- The Sam Fund for Young Adults: www.thesamfund.org
- Needy Meds Prescription Assistance: www.needymeds.org