Avoiding financial disaster

Nine ways a newly diagnosed cancer patient can prepare for financial obstacles

Below are some tips to help you through this difficult time. The information on this page was developed by CancerLINC and is used with permission. CancerLINC is a Richmond organization with the mission to help cancer patients and their families overcome legal and financial obstacles when they need it the most.

When you are diagnosed with cancer your first priority is your health. But cancer affects your whole life and often creates legal and financial needs that you’ve never considered before. It’s important to think about these other issues early, so you can avoid greater problems later.

Contact CancerLINC at 804-562-0371 ext. 103 if you have any questions or need referrals to resources.

*Please discuss the following tips with your family and trusted advisers.

1. Know your insurance policy inside and out

  • Notify your health insurance provider of your diagnosis as soon as possible.
  • Find out if the treatments recommended by your physicians are covered by your insurance policy and what portion of the cost will be your responsibility. Determine if there are caps on out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Select providers that are “in-network” in order to insure the lowest possible co-payment. If you are entering the hospital, ask about all the health care providers that will be involved in your care to be sure that all are in the network.
  • Ask your insurance provider to assign you a case manager — someone to be your single point of contact for all bills, that will have authority to make corrections and adjustments to bills, and to resolve administrative difficulties that may result from multiple billings.
  • Identify pre-operative approvals, referrals to specialists, limits on physical therapy, counseling sessions and emergency room visits that may be required under your insurance policy. Ask your case manager if he or she can arrange blanket referrals to make satisfying these requirements easier.

2. Seek resources for financial assistance, if needed

  • Lower-cost providers and resources are available to help reduce some medical expenses. Contact CancerLINC and your health care provider for information about qualification for these programs.

3. Do not be afraid to discuss payment problems with your physician

  • Your physician may be aware of resources for financial assistance through the hospital or pharmaceutical companies.

4. Discuss your financial matters with a financial professional as early as possible

  • A financial professional can provide you with guidance about qualifying for the itemized medical deduction on your income tax return and help you make a plan for financial survival during periods of reduced income.
  • In its service area, CancerLINC can provide you with a referral to a certified financial planner who provides services based on ability to pay.

5. Know what employee benefits you and your family are entitled to

  • Ask the employer about paid and unpaid leave, continuation of health insurance and disability benefits. Working family members should also ask about leave eligibility to help care for you if needed.
  • Discuss with your employer what will happen to your salary or benefits if you need to work part time. Be sure to find out if your employer’s contribution to your health insurance will change if your status becomes part time.

6. Apply for social security disability benefits early

  • If there is any possibility that your ability to work will be limited for the next 12 months, visit your social security office to apply for benefits as soon as you can following your diagnosis. The time period for application and appeal process can be lengthy, so file as early as possible.
  • Permanent disability is not required for benefits to be received. A closed period of benefits may be available if you are disabled for 12 months or longer but improve enough to return to work.

7. Hope for the best, prepare for challenges

  • Ensure that you have an effective power of attorney for both finances and health care decisions and an advanced medical directive reflecting the medical treatment you desire. Your health care providers and insurers may have special forms to allow a trusted person to obtain information about you or handle your accounts. Complete those forms.
  • Make sure you have a will that accurately reflects your current wishes.
  • Check your will, life insurance policies and retirement plans to be sure that the listed beneficiaries reflect your current wishes.
  • For the person who has your power of attorney, make a list of your financial accounts, pension accounts, insurance policies, credit cards, household bills and tax returns for the preceding three years, any existing loans and real estate owned. This list should include account numbers and important contact information for each account.
  • Consider adding a trusted family member to your bank accounts to enable him or her to pay your bills if you are incapacitated. Discuss with an attorney the best way to title any property such as your house, car, etc. in your particular situation.
  • Arrange care for your children and for any elderly dependents you may have.
  • Ask friends and family if they can help with transportation in the event you become unable to drive. Transportation may also be available through community groups.
  • If financially feasible, arrange for home delivery of your pharmaceuticals from a local drug store – chemotherapy drugs are not available online. Also arrange for home delivery for as many other errands as possible — dry cleaning, groceries, etc.
  • Friends and family want to help. Have one trusted person organize assistance with meals, shopping, household tasks, child care, etc.
  • Notify your church, synagogue or other place of worship. They can provide emotional and spiritual support and may have emergency funds and volunteers to assist you.
  • Keep a list of household repair companies and their contact information on hand.
  • Stock your home with an extra supply of many household items — stamps, toilet paper, dishwashing detergent, etc.
  • Make sure your home is equipped with a telephone that will work without power. Always keep your cell phone charged.
  • Investigate the financial options and resources available to minimize the financial burden that will remain when your treatment is completed. A financial professional can help you find the best way to achieve this goal. Honestly evaluate your ability to work and your financial resources. CancerLINC can refer you to sources for assistance. 

8. Don’t be afraid to discuss your situation with creditors

  • It may be possible to suspend or reduce payments owed during your illness.

9. Take steps early to prevent your financial affairs from getting out of control

  • Set aside a place in your home for bills and receipts and use this area for financial matters only. Keep everything needed to pay bills in this area — including stamps, envelopes and extra checks.
  • Balance your checkbook when you receive your checking account statement. If this task becomes a burden, ask your bank or a trusted person for assistance.
  • Make a plan for payment of bills. Possibilities are automatic debits to your bank account, automatic payment of all bills by credit card which frees you to make only one payment per month, or getting a friend or family member to help you make payments.
  • Avoid impulse shopping. Eliminate any unnecessary expenses.

For more information

The suggestions on this page were developed by CancerLINC. Use the following to contact or contribute to this valued community resources:

200 S. 3rd Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219
(804) 562-0371, ext. 103

*These tips do not constitute legal advice and not all may apply in your particular situation. If you need legal or financial advice, contact an attorney or financial advisor. CancerLINC can provide referrals in its service area.