OncoLog

 

From OncoLog, March 2013, Vol. 58, No. 3

House Call: Managing the Financial Burden of Long-Term Illness
Help is available for many patients

The cost of treatment for cancer and other diseases that require long-term care can be high, and many people with such diseases will experience some financial burden. Fortunately, resources are available to help patients and their families plan for and manage these financial challenges.

Irene Korcz, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., a senior social work counselor in the Department of Social Work at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, has seen firsthand how treatment costs can siphon off people’s savings. “Long-term illness has a big impact on a person’s finances. Many patients’ insurance plans will pay for 80% of their treatment costs, but that remaining 20% can add up quickly and be quite expensive,” she said. “And out-of-pocket costs can add up, too.”

Have a plan

If you or a family member is facing long-term treatment, it’s important to know what that treatment will cost. Talk to your doctor about the expected costs of treatment, including laboratory tests, imaging studies, clinical visits, medicines, and in- and outpatient procedures. If your doctor does not know this information, he or she may be able to refer you to someone who does. Be sure to consider out-of-pocket expenses such as child care during treatment and transportation to and from the hospital.

It is also important to know how you will pay for your treatments. Review your health insurance policy carefully to find out which costs your insurance will cover and which ones you will have to pay. Be sure you know the amounts of your copayments and deductible. You should also review your income, assets, and expenses so you can make adjustments and plan accordingly.

Some of the money you spend on medical care for yourself and your family may be deductible from your federal income tax. See Internal Revenue Service Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses (PDF) for details, but remember that tax codes are subject to change.

Know your options

A social worker can be a valuable member of your support team. The hospital where you are being treated may have social workers on staff; if not, you may be able to find a social worker in your area through a service such as www.healthgrades.com. In addition to helping you manage the psychological and social aspects of your diagnosis, a social worker can help you locate sources of financial support. For example, Dr. Korcz said, “At MD Anderson, we do a financial assessment to find out what the person’s needs and financial concerns are. Based on our assessment, we try to direct him or her to the correct resources.”

Here are just a few organizations and programs whose support may be available to you.

  • Government benefit and assistance programs provide financial or other aid to specific groups of people. For example, Medicare provides health insurance not only for people age 65 years and older but also people younger than 65 years who have certain disabilities or end-stage renal disease (a chronic illness). Medicaid provides insurance for individuals and families with low income. Social Security programs provide disability insurance benefits and other forms of financial support. To find these and other government benefit and assistance programs that you may qualify for, visit www.benefits.gov or call 800-333-4636.
  • Nonprofit organizations provide many helpful services—support groups, counseling, and publications, for example. Some organizations also provide financial support to those who qualify. Groups that can help you locate the services of nonprofit organizations that fit your needs include the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition and Patient Advocate Foundation (800-532-5274).
  • Prescription assistance programs, which are usually supported by pharmaceutical companies, supply medicines for free or at a reduced cost to patients who qualify. Some organizations that can help you locate prescription assistance are the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (888-477-2669), RxAssist, and NeedyMeds.

Additional options for help may become available to you as your financial needs change. Talking with your social worker on a regular basis can be the key to getting the support you need.

Enlist help

Finally, it is important to have a good support system in place. Managing the financial burden and other aspects of a long-term disease can be stressful; having people to whom you can turn for support can reduce this stress.

“The main thing is to get support for yourself,” Dr. Korcz said. “It’s always good to find a supportive presence in your life—family members, friends, your doctor, or clergy, for example—to help you during your illness.”

– J. Munch

For more information, talk to your physician, visit www.mdanderson.org/socialwork, call askMDAnderson at 877-632-6789, visit the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org/treatment/findingandpayingfortreatment, or visit the American Association for Cancer Research at www.aacr.org/home/survivors--advocates.aspx.

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