The Financial Burdens of Cancer – Part 1

If you were recently diagnosed with cancer, the feelings are absolutely overwhelming.  The ongoing thoughts that go through your mind after whether you will live or die, are finances.  Will I lose my job, will my insurance cover my medical expenses, who will take care of my family, will I have to file bankruptcy, will I have to go on welfare, will I lose my house, my car, will I ever be able to work again and the playlist continues over and over in your head.  It is beyond terrifying.

financial_burden_need_moneyWhen I was diagnosed, I felt all of those feelings as I was single and self-employed without any sick time or short and/or long term disability benefits.  Looking back with the old, “If I knew then what I know now”, I give this wisdom and advice:

1)  INSURANCE:  Most of us have absolutely no idea of what insurance coverage we have for a catastrophic illness like cancer.  Who knows if your insurance will cover all chemotherapy drugs (some are $20,000 or more per infusion!), blood transfusions, port placement, for example, the drug Herceptin for one year ($60,000), or a compression sleeve?  Most of us never even heard  these words before diagnosis.   Ask your hospital to check with your insurance company to make sure they are “in network” before you start treatment.

I made the decision to go out-of-town to the University of Michigan Cancer Center because I felt my life depended upon it.  When I called my insurance company, they said University of Michigan was out of network, and I would have to pay 40% of my medical bills, which would have resulted in over $100,000 or more of additional medical expenses. YIKES!  I called the insurance office at the University of Michigan Cancer Center for their help.  Within days, with their help in convincing my insurance company I needed their care, my insurance company agreed to pay my medical bills 100% except for deductibles and considered that hospital “in network”.  LET SOMEONE ELSE FIGHT THIS BATTLE.  If you go to a large hospital, they have staff that deal with the insurance companies so you don’t have to do so!

Also, because I did not have prescription drug coverage, the Neulasta shot was not covered.  Neulasta helps increase your blood counts after chemotherapy and costs on average $4,000 to $9,000 PER SHOT!!  A cancer patient may need as few as 4 or many, many more shots!   However, my hospital said if they administered the shot the next day with me as an out-patient, it would be covered.  It entailed my driving another 120 miles round trip on the day after treatment, but it saved me $36,000 for the four shots I needed!!

There are also very expensive anti-nausea meds, Emend, which costs $100.00 per pill.  If you do not have prescription drug coverage, the hospital can give it to you intravenously which has a much longer effect, and then most insurances will cover it.

There is a program for cancer patients who have high co-pays for drugs such as Neulasta or Neupegon – if you have high copays, check this out for help in paying those co-pays:  https://amgenfirststep.com/

2)  HELP: Ask your most detail-oriented and computer savvy friend to help you find what services are available to cancer patients in your area. Upon diagnosis, friends and family ask how they can help you.  PLEASE take them up on their offers as you need to practice this new and difficult skill of accepting help.    Many don’t qualify for state welfare benefits, but other help is available no matter how small.  It all helps!  For example, I just learned that in my city there is a new program for cancer patients and their families called Nightingale Harvest. The only requirement is that you are in active treatment.  You need a note from your Oncologist–then they provide food, cleaning supples and toiletries to the cancer patient and family throughout treatment free of charge.  What a marvelous charity!

While I was undergoing chemotherapy,  my hospital put me in touch with an organization that gave me $300.00 in gas cards based on miles driven to and from treatment.  Their only qualification – undergoing cancer treatment.  I will never forget their kindness.  It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.

Here is a compilation of numerous organizations that provide help to cancer patients:

http://www.1uponcancer.com/freebies-and-discounts-for-cancer-patients/

3)  BEYOND HELP – If you are in a situation such as you have no insurance coverage, have no savings, lost your job, or any other dire situation, let friends and family help by either setting up a fundraiser or an online fundraiser such as http://www.gofundme.com   or  www.youcaring.com   to raise money for you and your family.   Please don’t be too proud, as people do want to help you!

4)  CLEANING – Most cancer patients have very little energy and especially no energy to clean your house.  Cleaning for a Reason is a service in the USA and Canada providing cleaning services to cancer patients while in treatment. http://www.cleaningforareason.org/

5)  MEALS – The best thing friends and family can provide are meals with food a cancer patient can eat.  This varies from person to person.  This website offers a free calendar where friends and family can sign up to bring meals to the cancer patient, and then sends email reminders to the patient and the food preparer!   www.mylifeline.org

6)  PERSONAL CARE – Many organizations offer things such as massages, reflexology, relaxation, emotional health, and other classes for cancer patients and their families.  The hospital where I received radiation treatment, provided me with a weekly massage at no charge.  It was a great comfort to me.

7) FAMILY TIME – One amazing organization, Little Pink Houses of Hope, provide vacations to breast cancer patients and their families.  For more information, go to:   https://www.littlepink.org

8) AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY –  http://www.cancer.org  The American Cancer Society will put you in touch with help.  They also offer a free program for female cancer patients…Look Good, Feel Better.   http://www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org    I attended and it helped so much!  They provided makeup and skills to help you cope during treatment, like how to draw in eyebrows.  I HIGHLY recommend attendance at this free class.

You will make it through and things will get better.  But in the meantime, ask for help and accept help to relieve some of the financial burdens of cancer.

______________________________________________

I offer chemo hats for every budget and keep my profit margin low to help others – please check them out at http://www.hellocourage.com     CH-h4flappergrayred1

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2 comments

  1. Denise, You aren’t kidding! When I was diagnosed in August 2014, my very first thoughts went to finances. Prior to the official diagnosis, when I first found the lump, I was thinking, “what is my house worth, how much debt do I have, what will I leave for my 3 children?”. I switched to focusing on cure when I found out it was 2A ductal cell carcinoma, and thought, “what is money compared to my life?”.
    A cancer diagnosis is scary, for many reasons. It’s too bad that finances have to creep in and cause even more stress. I switched from a small hospital where I used to work to the University Hospital based on the recommendation of my surgeon referral, who before touching me, presented this option because I also had increased uptake of the radioactive dye in an ovary on the PET scan.

    Since then, the small hospital has been hounding me for the thousands of dollars remaining in my out of pocket portion of my insurance coverage. They are relentless, and I have told them I can make partial payments, and applied for an extension, but they continue to threat, and say if I only make partial payments that doesn’t guarantee my account is in good standing.

    In October I found out our company was switching to a new insurance company for reasons not financial, but personal with the CEO. Thankfully I work for a small company, and he listened and decided to make the switch January 1 instead. But I only just started chemo Jan 29th and am looking at an even higher out of pocket with this new company in 2015, so more than double the bills. I believe the University will work with me more readily than the other hospital, this is what I have heard from other patients.

    I am thankful for these things however: I am employed full time, I have insurance, I can continue to work, my company is extremely supportive, and there is light at the end of the tunnel at last! My ovary mass was benign. After 3 surgeries (one for infection in the mastectomy site), in 3 months, now I can focus on getting through chemo, and maybe even grow my hair back in time for my oldest daughter’s wedding in August this year. If that doesn’t pan out, I found a super cute sun hat!

    Love, love, love your site. Found the blog on ACT chemo, and it really prepared me for starting my chemo.
    Thank you,
    Sarah

    • Oh, Sarah, THANK YOU SO MUCH for posting!! I am so sorry you have to go through all of it!
      But I can tell you have the determination to get to the other side!

      You bring up some VERY VALID POINTS that I forgot to mention — I will in a follow-up blog post!
      You are right! Larger, University hospitals have more money and seem to be easier and MUCH MORE
      cooperative on collecting their debts!! Small hospitals hound you to death!
      I had that same experience. Small hospital where I had biopsy sent me to collection even though I was current on my
      payments. Large, University hospital – cut my bill IN HALF if I paid all at once! That was a huge
      savings like over $4,000!!
      Thanks for your kind words about my Blog. I am SO THANKFUL I could help you prepare for chemo!
      My best wishes, Denise

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