Avoiding Medical Debt After a Cancer Diagnosis

Many Americans struggle with medical expenses. One in five Americans who have health insurance struggle to pay off their medical debt. For cancer patients with insurance, out-of-pocket costs can reach $12,000 just for one medication and average treatment costs can hit $150,000.1,2 And tragically, cancer patients are two-and-a-half times more likely to declare bankruptcy than people without cancer.2

For cancer and other diseases that require long-term care, that financial concern is too real. In order to stay ahead of your medical payments and keep treatment as your first priority, understanding what options you have and what your expenses may be can help protect against financial hardships during treatment.

Create a Budget

After your initial diagnosis, an unfortunate reality you have to face is how to pay for care. Creating a budget early lets you put more energy into treatment and recovery going forward. When you create your budget, start with a list of all possible charges, including:

  • Outpatient visits, such as regular provider visits, chemotherapy or radiation treatments, and consultations.
  • Inpatient visits, such as hospital stays and procedures.
  • Lab testing.
  • Prescription medications.
  • In-home caregivers.
  • Mental health therapy during treatment.
  • Transportation and travel costs.
  • Possible lost pay to due absence from work, if any.

Also keep in mind your insurance versus out-of-pocket costs, including your out-of-pocket maximum.

Most medical providers are developing a policy of transparency around how much treatments and doctor’s visits cost. As of January 1, hospitals in the U.S. are required to post a “machine-readable” list of all potential costs the hospital might charge. This lets patients compare costs at different medical centers and to budget for annual costs. Treatment for a cancer diagnosis may last months or years, so being able to plan ahead financially lets you and your family focus on the treatment and recovery processes.

If you don’t know where to begin with budgeting, there’s an abundance of online resources, communities and social workers that dedicate their work to cancer patients and their families. Many hospitals have social workers or financial professionals on hand that work with patients to put together a payment plan. Taking advantage of available resources can help ease your burden.

Go Over Your Health Insurance

For those who have health insurance, making sure you get the most out of your plan and coverage is important when dealing with multiple aspects of cancer care. When you go over your benefits, you want to look into what your copays are and if your insurance covers services, such as in-home aids, palliative care and experimental treatments.

When checking the terms of your policy you also want to keep a detailed folder of your medical bills and insurance information. Double check your charges to help maintain your budget and ensure you aren’t billed incorrectly by accident. If you don’t have a health insurance provider, check to see if you qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, for those over 65.

Should You Take Out a Loan?

When you go through cancer treatment, whether you have insurance or not, you can build up a considerable amount of medical debt. A personal loan or medical loan may be a good option for patients who’re looking to refinance what they owe.

Taking out a loan can help keep your debt out of the hands of medical debt collectors. Medical bills through the hospital don’t generally make an impression on your credit score, but if bills get passed to a collection agency there could be a more significant impact on your credit report.

Before looking into a personal loan, consider negotiating debt with medical providers to see if your bills can be lowered. Hospitals and doctor’s offices are often willing to work with patients who need assistance on payment plans and even have onsite financial advisors that can help with the process.

The most important thing to do is not ignore your medical debt. Whether it be through a medical provider or through your bank, ignoring your bills only makes your financial situation worse. Making decisions at the beginning of a diagnosis lets you focus on your treatment rather than creating more stress later on.

When to Utilize Legal Assistance

Family history and personal health play a role in the diagnosis of cancer, but there is a subset of cancers that are caused by exposure to dangerous chemicals, minerals or gases. It’s an unfortunate reality that an instance of unhealthy exposure can be due to the negligence of another person or group.

Recent publicized examples have circled around ovarian cancer caused by talc and mesothelioma caused by asbestos in the workplace. In cases like mesothelioma, the cancer can be aggressive leaving patients with 6 to 12 months to live. Utilizing legal assistance in these cases can help families with stability and support. While these situations are unfortunate, litigation is an option some patients may want to consider.

Connecting with the Cancer Community

Although the financial burdens of cancer and other long-term diseases are overwhelming, there are numerous organizations and health care providers dedicated to helping you find a support system within your community. Connecting with professionals who work with cancer patients every day can help you raise money and navigate expenses, leaving you to focus on the most important part of your diagnosis—getting healthy.

Places to start include your local hospital, the Cancer Support Community and the American Cancer Society.

More About Medical Debt

About the Author

Molly-McGuaneMolly McGuane is a writer and communications specialist for the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center. Her main goal is to spread information for those with rare diseases and cancer. Molly has a degree in both journalism and English literature and enjoys reading, hiking and running.

1 https://www.kff.org/medicare/issue-brief/it-pays-to-shop-variation-in-out-of-pocket-costs-for-medicare-part-d-enrollees-in-2016/

2 https://www.aarp.org/money/credit-loans-debt/info-2018/the-high-cost-of-cancer-treatment.html

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