By Lisa Zamosky
Medical bills are responsible for 62% of all personal bankruptcies in this country, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. Few illnesses are as expensive to treat as cancer. In fact, the rate of bankruptcy among cancer survivors is almost twice as high one year after being diagnosed, as compared with the general population.
According to Teresa Bond, president and CEO at the Los Angeles-based Cancer Support Community – Benjamin Center, the founding chapter of the international organization that provides support and education to people affected by cancer throughout the country, it’s not unusual to hear people talk about the cost of their cancer care turning into hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
I spoke with Bond, as well as program director Dolly Phillips, about cancer treatment, its costs, and some resources available to help people deal with the challenges they and their families face when battling cancer. Bond and Phillips offer three tips for getting the help you need to confront a cancer diagnosis, and the resulting financial issues.
1. Slow down: Although a sense of urgency to start fighting cancer immediately is understandable, giving yourself a week or so to evaluate your options and how you’ll cover the cost of your care can really pay off in the end.
“You need time to talk with your insurance company about what it covers and what it doesn’t before you go for care,” Bond says. In addition, you’ll need to be clear about whether you need pre-authorization for certain types of care and any other details that may impact reimbursement.
2. Get a second opinion: Certainly, this isn’t a new recommendation. Yet, according to Bond and Phillips, the majority of people diagnosed with cancer choose the type of treatment they’ll pursue on their first visit with their oncologist, despite having received no prior information about their treatment options. That’s a mistake.
Not only is getting a second opinion (and possibly a third) the smart thing to do to make sure you’re following the best possible course of care, it’s also the right financial move. Given that a round of cancer treatment can, in some cases, reach six figures, and that many people require more than one round of treatment, it’s imperative to consider how you’ll proceed with both your physical and financial health in mind. Multiple professional opinions are likely to better enable you to make an educated choice.
3. Increase your support network: In addition to family and friends, connecting with others also going through cancer treatment – whether through online or in-person groups, through your church or other outlets – can be very helpful to most people. “People who are going through cancer are the best resources,” Bond says. “They’re out there networking and know who to go to and how to navigate the system to get the help that’s needed.”
Whether you or a family member is in need of transportation, wigs, meals, help sorting through insurance or legal issues, help paying for medications, rent, food, child care, or are in need of psychological support, there are state and county-based programs, as well as many private organizations that help connect you with a range of resources.
For assistance locating support groups, information about cancer and its treatment, wellness, and psychological services or resources to help you address your financial needs while seeking care, here are a few good places to start:
- Cancer Support Community
- American Society of Clinical Oncology
- Disease-specific organizations, such as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
- Cancer Legal Resource Center
Share with the community: Have you or a family member faced cancer? Share some of the resources you’ve found that have helped you deal with the medical, emotional, and financial challenges brought on by cancer.