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Financial Tips for Living with Cancer

Living with mesothelioma or any other type of cancer is already an individual burden. It causes pain and discomfort, emotional distress, damage to relationships, and so many other hardships. On top of all of this, living with cancer can also place a big financial burden on an individual and on the family. Not only is it expensive to have mesothelioma, what with treatments, medications, and travel, but the financial burden can also cause stress, anxiety, and a diminished quality of life. Patients can tap into resources, though, and get support from family, friends, and organizations prepared to help.

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The Overall Economic Impact of Cancer

To understand how the financial aspects of cancer can affect an individual, it helps to first look at the bigger picture. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, direct medical costs of cancer in the U.S. amounted to nearly $88 billion in 2014. More than half of this cost is from outpatient hospital treatments or visits to doctor offices. About a quarter of the costs are for inpatient hospital treatment. This total is only for direct medical care and does not take into account the costs related to lost work hours, which is also estimated to be in the billions every year.

The Extra Costs of Mesothelioma

The later a cancer is diagnosed, the more costly the treatment is likely to be. With mesothelioma, most patients are not diagnosed until they are in the later stages. This means that mesothelioma has a higher burden of cost per individual than many other types of cancers. The rarity of this kind of cancer also makes it more costly to treat. Most patients need the care of a specialist and these are few and far between. Many must travel or relocate to get the most expert care, and this increases the financial burden even more.

The Impact on Quality of Life

It may come as no surprise to those struggling to pay for the costs of cancer care, but studies have found that financial burden is a leading cause of decrease in quality of life in cancer patients. One study found that patients who were struggling financially experienced worse mental and physical health, and less satisfaction in relationships and activities than those who were financially stable. Having financial problems while struggling with cancer causes emotional distress, but it can also prevent a person from getting the best care, leading to poor physical health as well.

Managing Finances during Cancer Treatment

Not only is cancer expensive, but the costs can be confusing. It’s a good idea to keep track of costs and to keep all your records and bills organized. If you don’t have the energy to do this, ask a friend or family member to help you. As you begin treatment, make sure you understand the kinds of costs you’ll be facing. There are many aspects of care that cost money that you may not have realized initially:

  • Doctor visits
  • Chemotherapy or radiation sessions
  • Surgery and other procedures
  • Medications
  • Imaging tests and scans
  • Hospital stays
  • Home care, including nurses and equipment
  • Supplemental care, like physical therapy or counseling
  • Transportation or travel if you need to go out of town or out of state for care

It is also important during this process to be an active part of the team planning for your care. Ask questions of your medical team as they develop treatment plans. If you are worried about the costs, speak up and find out how much a procedure will cost and if your insurance will cover it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or for alternatives if you are concerned that any part of your care plan is too costly or unnecessary. Your doctors should be willing to discuss everything with you and answer all your questions.

Understand How Your Insurance Works

If you have insurance coverage through an employer or your spouse’s employer, or any other source of health insurance, you should be able to use it to cover many of your medical and related expenses. It is so important to understand your insurance plan, what the terms are, what will be covered, if there are preferred doctors or networks, and any requirements such as getting pre-approval for certain treatments or procedures. Talk to your insurance company about any questions you have. You can also contact the American Cancer Society to speak to health insurance experts for free.

Try Government Resources

If you do not have private health insurance, you may qualify for coverage under Medicaid or Medicare. These federal programs provide health insurance for people over 65 (Medicare) and for those with limited income (Medicaid). Other government resources include Social Security Disability Income, which may provide you with a small income if you qualify and are unable to work.

Seek out Financial and Other Resources to Help Save on Costs

There are many organizations, including academic, government, community, and non-profit groups that offer resources and support for cancer patients. Some of these groups assist patients with any type of cancer, while others are dedicated to specific cancers, like mesothelioma. Contact these groups to find out how they can help you manage your finances and even get help paying for medical care and other expenses:

  • CancerCare. This non-profit offers financial assistance and other resources for cancer patients and their families. When you contact the group you will get help from an oncology social worker.
  • Needymeds. Medications can be very expensive, and NeedyMeds is a non-profit that helps all kinds of patients pay for the medications they need.
  • Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition. The CFAC is a group of nationwide organizations and has a searchable database of resources to help cancer patients cover costs of care.
  • Corporate Angel Network. If you need to travel for treatment, this group will help find you empty seats on corporate and private planes for free.
  • Hope Lodge. Founded by the American Cancer Society, this organization has 32 lodges around the country that are open to cancer patients and their families as places to stay for free when traveling for treatment.
  • The Veterans Administration. If you served in the U.S. military there is a good chance that your mesothelioma is a result of exposure to asbestos during service. You can file a claim with the VA to seek medical care and compensation.
  • Legal resources. If you believe you can connect your mesothelioma diagnosis to asbestos exposure that an employer or other company is liable for, you can take legal action. A lawsuit may win you a settlement, or there may be an asbestos trust fund already set up to compensate victims.

There is no question that living with cancer poses a financial burden for most patients. Even with insurance, the stress of paying for treatments that are not covered or just trying to understand what is and is not covered, can be overwhelming. If you are struggling, rely on friends and family to help and also contact these resources to get assistance from experts as well as financial help.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.

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