Financial Toxicity of Cancer Patients
The hazards of financial toxicity are well documented. This type of side effect involves all the problems created by the financial expenses of cancer treatment — which, for most people, go far beyond just medical bills.
Financial toxicity can cause patients to experience more stress and receive less treatment, leading to poorer quality of life and lower survival rates.
A 2021 research study published in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing found that emotional and financial responsibilities were primary influences in patients’ priorities and motivations.
Financial Planning Tips
- Designate a trusted caregiver to help with important decisions.
- Ask about the costs of treatment and any available alternatives.
- Examine the details of health insurance coverage closely.
- Be proactive in searching for financial help with medical bills.
While the rising cost of cancer care is a complex national problem, there are steps each individual patient can take to avoid financial toxicity as much as possible.
The key to effective financial planning is to do it early. When dealing with the shock of a mesothelioma diagnosis, it is tempting to set the financial aspects of treatment aside for later, but this will only make dealing with expenses harder.
The best time for financial planning is before beginning treatment and before the cancer progresses any further.
Get Organized and Ask Questions
First, the patient should designate one or more trusted people who can help with decision-making in case symptoms or side effects prevent the patient from thinking clearly. These designated helpers need to know where to find the patient’s medical records and legal documents as well as the contact information for the patient’s doctors, mesothelioma lawyers and financial advisors, if any.
The designated helpers may also need the passwords and security codes to the patient’s financial accounts and a power of attorney to make important decisions on the patient’s behalf.
Next, it’s time to examine the patient’s treatment plan and prepare for the expenses that will be involved.
Common questions about mesothelioma treatment include:
- How much is this treatment going to cost?
- How much does my insurance cover? How much will I have to pay out of pocket? Do I need preapproval from my insurance company?
- Is there a less expensive way for me to get this treatment? Can I take a different version of it or receive it at a different location?
- Will I have to travel for this treatment and find housing near the treatment center?
- Will I need supplements, rehabilitation or medical devices during or after treatment? How much will that cost?
- How long will it take me to recover? Will I be able to work? Will I have to stay in a hospital or nursing home? If I stay at home, will someone need to be there to care for me?
If the patient’s doctors don’t have all this information, ask to speak to a billing administrator, social worker or patient navigator. Loved ones can call the patient’s insurance company to confirm the details of their coverage. Whenever someone cannot provide a clear answer to a financial question, find someone else who can.
If all these considerations feel overwhelming, reach out to The Mesothelioma Center’s online support group or patient advocacy organization for guidance.
Understand Your Resources
After accounting for all the expenses that may be involved in a mesothelioma treatment plan, the next step is to take stock of the resources available to the patient and their caregivers.
Most Americans rely on health insurance to cover treatment for serious illnesses, but health insurance in the U.S. is a patchwork of individual, group and public options subject to an ever-shifting regulatory landscape.
The only sure thing is that no American can just trust the financial details of health care to work themselves out — rather, mesothelioma patients and their caregivers must take a hard look at their health insurance coverage and explore what other options are available such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Many cancer patients and caregivers find themselves in a bind because they receive their health insurance through their employer, but they cannot continue working full time during cancer treatment.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 may provide one solution, as it ensures many American workers are entitled to 12 weeks of job-protected leave per year. Patients and caregivers can use FMLA leave to adjust their working hours or take unpaid time off without losing their health insurance benefits.
Tax deductions are another important resource for many cancer patients, especially seniors who already face high health care costs. Medical expenses that exceed a certain percentage of a household’s income can be deducted from federal taxes, and caregivers may be able to take advantage of certain tax breaks as well.
Cancer patients who are retired face their own set of issues in terms of managing medical expenses in retirement.
Financial Help with Medical Bills
When newly diagnosed mesothelioma patients stack their anticipated expenses against their resources, too often the cost of cancer treatment seems an insurmountable obstacle. Accumulating medical debt may appear inevitable. However, at this point, the financial plan is only halfway finished.
Numerous government programs and nonprofit organizations can help cancer patients travel for treatment, obtain medical equipment and afford medications and other necessities. Managing financial hardship is never easy, but there are ways to fill in the gaps in a patient’s financial plan for those who look for them.
Patients and caregivers should look for savings wherever they can. Sometimes mortgage lenders, credit card companies and other creditors will adjust payment schedules in acknowledgment of extenuating circumstances related to a serious illness. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Regarding mesothelioma financial assistance specifically, many families affected by an asbestos-related illness have another potential resource in the form of compensation through an asbestos trust fund claim, VA benefits claim or lawsuit.
As part of a mesothelioma patient’s financial plan, they should carefully record all expenses related to the diagnosis. This information will be vital if the patient or their family seeks legal compensation.
Because there are complex statute-of-limitations requirements for mesothelioma claims, it’s better to explore legal options sooner rather than later. If a mesothelioma patient is not able to pursue this course while they are alive, filing an asbestos claim after death can still protect their estate from the burden of cancer expenses.
Financial planning for mesothelioma patients should also involve writing a will, making decisions about funeral services, and designating the beneficiaries of insurance policies and survivor benefits.
These are practical matters all people should take care of. A mesothelioma diagnosis should only serve as a reminder to not put off these end-of-life decisions.
Fill out the following legal documents as soon as possible after a mesothelioma diagnosis to make things easier later.
Financial Power of Attorney
A financial power of attorney document names someone as your agent or attorney-in-fact. Your agent should be someone you trust to make financial or legal decisions on your behalf if you become too sick to handle your own affairs.
A financial power of attorney usually gives your agent authority to do things such as bank, pay taxes or apply for government benefits on your behalf.
Health Care Power of Attorney
A health care power of attorney document names an agent or attorney-in-fact to make your health care decisions if you are physically or mentally unable to make them for yourself.
It can also give your agent authority to communicate with your doctors, access and release your medical records, and make sure you receive the type of care you desire.
In some states, you can also include a statement of advanced directives, sometimes called a living will, in your health care power of attorney. An advanced directive provides specific instructions about what type of care and what kind of life-saving procedures (such as CPR) you wish to receive.
A will gives instructions for handling your estate after your death. It names an executor to manage your final affairs such as paying debts and distributing your property to your loved ones. If you die without a will, the court determines how to divide your property.
If you have minor children, you may also be able to name a guardian for them in your will.