Financial support for cancer patients

Every person facing cancer will also have to face financial upheaval.

Estimated read-time: 9 minutes

  1. An additional strain and financial burden from cancer
  2. Can you get financial help when you have cancer?
  3. The cost of cancer
  4. How to cope with the financial stress of cancer

An additional strain and financial burden from cancer

Financial strain in the wake of a cancer diagnosis is a very real prospect and the worry can be entirely overwhelming at such a stressful time.

The resulting negative effects of financial worries and the stress that accompanies it will impact not only the person with cancer, but also their caregiver and the whole family, including their children.

The financial pressures cancer imposes upon a household will come from many different angles and trying to cope with these additional bills can become a source of significant distress to not only the patient but also the caregiver.

The extra financial burden from cancer will be from;

  • medication and treatment costs
  • missed work by the patient and caregiver
  • additional childcare
  • transport
  • hospital parking
  • home help
  • out of pocket fertility preservation costs
  • complementary therapies
  • nutritional support of vitamins and minerals
  • medical supplies and equipment
  • wigs and specialised clothing
  • products to help relieve side effects.

All these extras will however feel like essentials, as making life better, easier and nicer becomes the top priority.

Being able to afford these costs could relieve the burden of stress and consequently, help protect your psychological health.1

Can you get financial help when you have cancer?

The diagnosis can bring quite an abrupt change to your all aspects of your life, especially if you did not see cancer coming.

Once you step upon the conveyor belt of medical appointments, you will have to contact work to reduce your hours in order to fit around your treatment schedule.

For many, the weighty emotional impact means that the importance of work quickly fades into the background and for most, this means stopping work completely and focusing upon your recovery.

Most people will be eligible for sickness entitlements and disability benefits from the government to help with living costs if their illness or side effects mean that they cannot work.

Financial support for the vulnerable

The most vulnerable in society for example; low-income households, the elderly, and the disabled will typically be able to access the most support.2

Depending upon the job you do, you may also have entitlements and benefits through work which will leave your living costs largely covered in the short-term.

For those are on short-term contracts or only get paid for the work that they do and therefore do not have such schemes to rely upon for support.

By contacting your direct manager or Human Resource office you will be able to confidentially investigate all your options for support both in the short-term and long-term.

Your caregiver may also have to cut down their working hours in order to be there for your appointments and care.

It is important to remember that there will be financial support and assistance for caregivers from their work and a caregiver’s allowance from the government which can feed into the monthly household income.

Caregivers will also be supported by charitable organizations who can offer practical support, financial assistance and advice, along with respite care and help with childcare.

Even if you do have financial support in the short-term, more likely than not, the reality will be that you will not have the same level of household income that you did before cancer.

Unfortunately, the monthly household bills do not stop coming. Sorting out your finances and accessing all relevant grants and benefits will need to become a priority.

It is wise to consider your financial position as early as you can and access all the financial support there is to help you minimise and manage the toll upon your finances cancer will impose.

Benefits can take time to process and there may be a delay of months from the time of diagnosis to when you are allowed to access the financial support.3

Make it a priority to let your medical team know your circumstances so that they can support you in accessing the right support, especially if you are daunted at the prospect and struggling with this additional burden.

They will be able to promptly put you in contact with a financial advisor who will make sure that you are getting all the benefits you are entitled to.

The cost of cancer

An increasing amount of people with cancer face personal financial hardships during treatment which have long-term implications that carry on well into their survivorship phase.

The loss of income coupled with the increase in the unforeseen, additional monthly costs mean that 92% of people experiencing cancer,4 live in fear of financial calamity.5

Those most affected by a looming financial crisis and therefore more likely to go into debt are teenage and young adults who perhaps don’t have employment, insurances or any pensions to rely upon6 and survivors under the age of 54, who on average face a 50% average fall in income.7

Other sectors of the population who are also likely to face financial difficulties are those on low incomes, those on short-term contracts, the self-employed, the unemployed, those without private insurance and patients with cancer reoccurence.8

Financial distress

Financial difficulties may also extend to the caregivers and extended families of the cancer patient who will also face financial uncertainty.

This will come from their own loss of earnings as supporting the cancer patient becomes increasingly demanding on their time and resources and could extend for years.

The costs of caring for a loved one at home will also have to be assumed by the family with changes to living accommodation which need to be made along with around the clock care at the end of life.9

A major survey was carried out on the financial burden upon 4,719 cancer survivors aged between 18–64 by the Livestrong Foundation in 2012.

It was found that approximately one third of the survivors had gone into debt as a result of having cancer, over half of these debts totalled more than $10,000.  

An additional 3% of survivors had filed for bankruptcy10 whilst others exhausted savings, pensions and sold off assets to pay their huge medical bills.

In another survey of over 1,200 participants carried out by the Cancer Support Community the wider implications that result from such financial difficulties were identified.

The cost of treatments, prescriptions, fertility preservation, innovative drug protocols, travel and psycho-social support were not always clearly discussed between doctors and patients up front.

This meant that patients do not budget for or simply cannot afford any treatment which requires an out-of-pocket cost and often abandon their treatment plan.11

Rises in the costs of research, treatment and prevention are set to continue over the next decade, with scientific advances resulting in ever expensive anti-cancer drugs.

This burden is compounded by increasing populations and the growing number of people surviving cancer.

In fact, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports that in the ten years from 2010-2020 the United States will see a 27% increase in medical costs due to population changes alone, which will bring the projected cost of cancer care to 157.77 billion.12

As a consequence, it is estimated that the financial pressure cancer places upon society is currently rising at two or three time the rate of other health-care costs.13

These challenges mean that governments, health insurers and individuals will all be placed under increasing strain in a trend that is not sustainable.14

As a result, difficult choices will have to be made by governments, as to what drugs are widely available for patients and for health insurers who are having to turn to co-payment systems and higher premiums in order to recoup their costs.15

How to cope with the financial stress of cancer

When cancer happens, many people are not prepared for such a crisis situation as few see cancer coming.

Along with the uncertainty of the disease and its treatment, the stability of your bank account will change, with unforeseen outgoings and differing incomes on a monthly basis.

The stress caused by financial worries can quickly become too much and will be a very unwelcome additional burden.

Seeking financial support is a very important first step.

It is critical that you sit down after diagnosis and assess your current financial situation as both your income and your outgoings will have changed.

Financial budget during cancer

This can be extremely challenging to do whilst in the midst of heavy emotional distress, treatment plans, side effects and crucial decision-making.

This is a good time to request the support from your partner or caregiver, a family member or close friend, local cancer charity or government run financial advice bureau for help.

By creating a budget, you can identify all areas of income you may have going forward from your wages, sick pay and state benefits such as disability allowance, caregivers support or income support, along with any savings or assets you have to fall back on.

Find out what you need to pay for and what you don’t; treatment, tests, prescriptions, transport, hospital parking etc.

There may be grants or financial assistance for such outgoings and some local cancer charities will even fundraise with the specific goal of being able to give you a tax-free lump-sum upon diagnosis.

Make sure also that you are accessing all the entitlements and benefits you are due. Your oncologist, GP doctor, family doctor or local cancer charity will be able to advise you on any financial support you are entitled to.

Then be sure you are paying the correct tax, given your new circumstances and investigate any possibilities for a tax rebate if you have been paying too much tax.

Depending upon your type, stage and prognosis, it may now be the time to access life insurance, critical-illness insurance or pensions.

Really getting to know any insurance policies you may have is again advisable as this will give you a clear idea of where you stand regarding wait times, access to innovative anti-cancer drugs and additional costs you will encounter.

You can always appeal any decisions you feel are unfair.16 Finally, beware of taking out any additional loans and borrowing.

As your situation has changed, the future now does not have the same certainties and it is important to be aware that in similar circumstances some people may become vulnerable and exposed to unscrupulous lenders.

If you think the information on this new website would be helpful to others, please like and share the word.

Recommend to others facing cancer, on support forums, social media, in person or by email. Thank you.

References

  1. Andrykowski, Ph.D. et al., M. A., 2008. Psychological Health in Cancer Survivors. Seminars in Oncology Nursing, [Online]. 24(3), 193–201. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3321244/ [Accessed 9 December 2018].
  2. OncoLink (2018) Financial Concerns During and After Cancer Treatment, Available at: https://www.oncolink.org/support/insurance-legal-employment-financial-concerns/financial-concerns/financial-concerns-during-and-after-cancer-treatment (Accessed: 23rd April 2019).
  3. Oncology Nurse Advisor (2013) Sources of Financial Assistance, Available at: https://www.oncologynurseadvisor.com/home/for-patients/fact-sheets/sources-of-financial-assistance/ (Accessed: 23rd April 2019).
  4. Howard, P. & Chady, B. (2012) Cancer & Palliative Care Nursing, 1st edn., United Kingdom: Balliere Tindall.
  5. Easterbrook, G., 2003. The Progress Paradox. 1st ed. United States of America: Random House.
  6. NCCN Guidelines for Patients (2019) Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer, 2nd edn., United States of America: NCCN Foundation.
  7. Howard, P. & Chady, B. (2012) Cancer & Palliative Care Nursing, 1st edn., United Kingdom: Balliere Tindall.
  8. Banegas, M. P. et al. (2016) ‘For Working-Age Cancer Survivors, Medical Debt And Bankruptcy Create Financial Hardships’, Health Affairs, Vol. 35(No. 1), pp. [Online]. Available at: https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0830?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed& (Accessed: 19th May 2019).
  9. Girgis, A. BSc. (Hons), PhD et al. (2013) ‘Physical, Psychosocial, Relationship, and Economic Burden of Caring for People With Cancer: A Review’, Journal of Oncology Practice, 9(4), pp. 197–202. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3710169/ (Accessed: 23rd April 2019).
  10. Livestrong (2013) Survivors’ Experiences with Employment, Available at: https://www.livestrong.org/sites/default/files/what-we-do/reports/2012Survey-SurvivorsExperienceWithWork_0.pdf (Accessed: 19th May 2019).
  11. Cancer Support Community (2017) Challenges for Cancer Patients: Costs, Delays, and Conversations, Available at: https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/blog/2017/03/challenges-cancer-patients-costs-delays-and (Accessed: 29th April 2019).
  12. Mariotto, A. B. et al. (2011) ‘Projections of the Cost of Cancer Care in the United States: 2010–2020’, JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 103 (Issue 2), pp. Pages 117–128 [Online]. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/103/2/117/2568866 (Accessed: 23rd April 2019).
  13. Banegas, M. P. et al. (2016) ‘For Working-Age Cancer Survivors, Medical Debt And Bankruptcy Create Financial Hardships’, Health Affairs, Vol. 35(No. 1), pp. [Online]. Available at: https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0830?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed& (Accessed: 19th May 2019).
  14. American Society of Clinical Oncology. 2018. Cancer Survivorship. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.cancer.net/sites/cancer.net/files/cancer_survivorship.pdf. [Accessed 22 December 2018].
  15. Banegas, M. P. et al. (2016) ‘For Working-Age Cancer Survivors, Medical Debt And Bankruptcy Create Financial Hardships’, Health Affairs, Vol. 35(No. 1), pp. [Online]. Available at: https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0830?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed& (Accessed: 19th May 2019).
  16. Cancer & Careers (2019) Conquering Insurance Issues and Problems, Available at: https://www.cancerandcareers.org/en/at-work/legal-and-financial/conquering-insurance-issues-and-problems (Accessed: 7th October 2019).

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