Money Matters

Managing the financial aspects of a cancer diagnosis can seem overwhelming, but there are resources available to help.

By Diana Price

You have just been diagnosed with cancer. You grapple with the physical reality of the diagnosis, you rise to the challenge of making important treatment decisions, and you face another—sometimes shocking—reality of your new normal: cancer is expensive.

According to the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition (CFAC), cancer patients face myriad costs when they are diagnosed. First, direct medical costs can include doctors’ fees, hospital charges, and medication expenses. Some of these costs may be covered if you are insured, but many insurance plans place limits on many aspects of this care. Second, nonmedical costs, including transportation to treatment, over-the-counter medication, child care, home care, and medical supplies, are generally not covered by health insurance. Finally, the daily living expenses don’t stop when you’re diagnosed; you’ll still need to cover food, housing, utilities, and other living expenses, even if you can’t work during this time. Yikes.

So, what’s a newly diagnosed cancer patient to do? First, take a deep breath. Know that there are resources out there to offer assistance with this aspect of your journey. And here to gather those resources under one roof—or on one Web site, anyway—is CFAC, “a coalition of financial assistance organizations joining forces to help cancer patients experience better health and well-being by limiting financial challenges.” Jane Levy, LCSW, director of patient assistance programs at CancerCare (the organization that spearheaded the coalition), says that CFAC was founded in April 2007 when the 12 original members met, with funding from Genentech, to discuss the rising demand for financial assistance and ways that their separate organizations could increase communication, share best practices, and develop more strategies to help patients.

Now, two years later, CFAC hosts a Web site—www.cancerfac.org—featuring a resource directory for patients that, Jane says, offers “one-stop shopping for national and local resources for financial assistance, information on issues of financial concern, information about how to access resources, and the latest news on the financial and insurance fronts.” With so many important resources in one place, patients and families save time and find customized help.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has also answered the call to educate patients about topics related to the financial aspects of cancer. In Managing the Cost of Cancer Care (available online at www.cancer.net), the organization provides valuable information about understanding costs related to care, important questions to ask related to treatment costs and insurance, and organizing critical financial and treatment information. The booklet also includes a comprehensive resource directory, listing financial and co-pay assistance providers as well as travel and lodging resources; it also includes a glossary of financial and insurance terms.

Also extremely valuable to patients and families facing financial issues as a result of a cancer diagnosis is the work of the Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF), a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization linking patients and families with case managers within the organization. Case managers work with their clients to resolve insurance and health access issues ranging from insurance disputes and medical debt crisis, to social service concerns related to their illness (including child care, transportation, and home health needs) and general financial assistance. According to Nancy Davenport-Ennis, who founded the organization 12 years ago, the PAF case managers who handle the incoming calls are part angel, part translator, and part mediator—all with a common goal: “We want every caller to know that though they may not understand insurance or how to overcome their particular problem, they’re not alone.” In addition to the in-person help that the case managers provide to callers who reach out, PAF offers valuable information via its Web site (www.patientadvocate.org).

Though the financial issues in the wake of a cancer diagnosis can seem daunting, the organizations described here provide information, financial assistance, and expertise in dealing with the challenges that arise. Reach out for the help you need and take comfort in the many helping hands that these organizations provide.

Patient Advocate Foundation

The Patient Advocate Foundation seeks to safeguard patients through effective mediation, ensuring access to care, maintenance of employment, and preservation of their financial stability.

www.patientadvocate.org

(800) 532-5274

Here to Help You!

Here are the 13 member organizations of CFAC offering financial assistance to patients:

  • American Cancer Society
  • CancerCare
  • CancerCare Co-payment Assistance Foundation
  • Chronic Disease Fund
  • Healthwell Foundation
  • Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
  • Leukemia & Lymphoma Co-pay Assistance Program
  • Max Foundation
  • National Marrow Donor Program
  • National Organization for Rare Diseases
  • Patient Access Network Foundation
  • Patient Services Incorporated
  • Sarcoma Alliance

Proactive Financial-planning Tips

When faced with the significant challenge of a cancer diagnosis, a proactive approach to financial planning can keep you from getting weighed down by a financial mess, leaving you time to focus on your health and relationships. Here, Michael Searcy, president of Searcy Financial Services, Inc. (www.searcyfinancial.com), a registered investment advisory firm in Overland Park, Kansas, offers some practical steps to help you plan.

 

  • Gather and organize important papers.

Gather yearly statements (toss monthly statements only if provided a year-end recap), insurance information, retail account numbers, computer passwords, magazine subscriptions, association and membership information, and a list of important financial and other advisers (and their contact information). Let someone know where this documentation is. If you’re single, make sure two trusted people know the location of these documents.

  • Understand your financial position.

Prepare a net worth statement through a balance sheet so that you have documented your assets and liabilities, including an income statement to show everything coming in the door and a categorized living expense report to show everything going out the door (and where it’s going).

  • Meet with an estate-planning attorney.

If you haven’t revised your estate-planning documents within the past three years, you should meet with an estate-planning attorney who can help you make sure that all your affairs are in order.

  • Document all medical expenses.

Keep receipts and mileage forms for medical-related situations; these will come in handy (and could save you money) during tax season.

  • Attack small debts first.

Pay off your smallest debt; then attack the next with the original payment plus more. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can eliminate a number of debts using this method.

  • Consult your financial adviser or insurance professional.

Explain your entire circumstances. There are many planning opportunities to help those dealing with cancer, but they depend on each unique situation.

  • Streamline and plan for an easier financial transition if you become unable to manage your finances yourself.

Consolidate bank accounts to a single institution, but be aware of FDIC limitations, and consolidate brokerage accounts to a single custodian.

  • Make all your moments and memories count!