Cancer hit us from all angles, as it does virtually everyone. However, what we didn’t realize is the magnitude of it’s impact upon an area on which we had little focus at the time – our bank account.
Yes, we hoped to be singularly focused on doing all we could to help ensure my wife would recover from cancer. However, during our journey, we were amazed at how quickly our attention became sidetracked. Almost immediately the medical bills and living expenses began to mount. We had to follow up on inaccurate charges (somehow, they were never in our favor). Discussions became frequent with our insurance carrier. The majority centered on their belief that needless or excessive tests and procedures had been ordered by our medical team. The call was always to inform us they were only willing to pay for a portion, if any, and the remainder was going to have to be settled by us.
Major Medical Coverage Gaps & the Emotional Impact
Though our health insurance plan covered most of our expenses, it still left gaping holes in my wallet and back account. Many uninsured purchases and services also had to be made. Suddenly, our life savings began to evaporate faster than rain on steaming hot pavement.
Did this add to our stress overload? Absolutely! Though I never shared with my wife this plight and our financial exposure, it certainly added to the tension-overload I was experiencing at the time. Though I kept it hidden from all, I imagine there are many families that hold a multitude of negative conversations regarding financial issues, thus distracting everyone from what should be a singular medical focus.
What is the impact of financial issues for cancer patients and their caregivers? For many, depression and anxiety are likely. For others, perhaps some important procedures are rejected due to their cost. For those unable to meet the payment demands, bill collectors are likely to become a regular annoyance. Finally, for those that exhaust their savings, financial hardships are sure to follow…making them wonder if they can afford to continue receiving treatment at all.
The Financial Impact
The Social Work Oncology Research Group is quoted as stating, “When we asked social workers what percentage of their patients stopped treatments, skipped medications, or missed doctor’s appointments due to the financial burden, the answer was 49%. And that’s the numbers we know of. There are many more that never even start treatment because of the catastrophic costs of cancer care.”
Who can a cancer patient or caregiver turn to for assistance? In many cases, social workers, if employed by the doctors and/or hospital where one is being treated, are trained and can provide support when approached. The downside is most cancer patients and caregivers, myself included at the time, are reluctant to hold these discussions or are unaware this service exists.
What else can a caregiver do to determine where he/she stands? If employed, contact the benefits department and the major medical insurance carrier of choice. Explain the issues and determine what support they can provide in education and/or assistance. In many cases, they can offer many viable recommendations and assist with the financial aspects of the medical journey.
Some companies offer an Employee Assistance Program. Along with offering counselling, they may also provide financial and legal services at no charge or, in some cases, a reduced fee.
Another recommendation is to speak with your physician about your financial dilemma. They may have flexibility in billing and rates that could ease the burden temporarily, if not permanently.
Conduct Internet research on how to control healthcare costs. Visit various webpages and ask questions. Those organizations specializing in the type of cancer or medical malady you and your loved one are facing may be able to assist. The more networking you do, the greater the likelihood that valuable information will be provided that can assist in meeting your needs.
The key is to not hide behind your possible embarrassment or fear you don’t want to bother others with your problems. Being a patient or caregiver was never in your financial planner. Therefore, most, if not all of us are faced with these unanticipated financial concerns.
Reach out and speak to others. You never know who is available to provide support if you don’t ask.
In concert with his Amazon.com #1 bestselling book, “We’re In this Together: A Caregiver’s Story”, Rob Harris is a caregiver advocate, radio show co-host, speaker and blogger. He’s a self-taught caregiver to his wife, a two-time cancer survivor. Excerpts of his book were recognized as the “featured story” in Coping With Cancer Magazine (May/June, 2013).