Did you observe World Cancer Day last week? Held every February 4th, World Cancer Day is a global initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). In a society where almost every person has either been personally affected, or knows someone who’s been impacted by cancer, the disease is truly one of our greatest challenges in history.
Each year World Cancer Day brings organizations and people together to promote awareness, education, and action in the fight against cancer. The theme for 2022 was “Close the Care Gap” recognizing that while everyone deserves access to cancer care, there are numerous inequities when it comes to receiving it. Income, education, location, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability and lifestyle are just a few of the factors that may inhibit access to proper care.
If you’re a caregiver to someone with cancer or going through treatment yourself, you’re likely experiencing a flood of emotions and questions. Especially for retirees or folks nearing retirement, facing cancer brings up a variety of worries—many of them financial. How can I afford care? Do I need to retire early? How will the cost of care affect my retirement savings? Can I collect both Social Security and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)? On top of that, you or your loved one may experience a major shift in priorities and views around what’s important in life.
Planning for Cancer Care and Related Expenses
Coping with bills and insurance can add to the stress of cancer treatment for you or your loved one. Between managing all the paperwork and wondering if you can afford it all, the financial side of cancer care can quickly become overwhelming. Whether you’re the caregiver or the patient, here are a few general tips to help you stay organized, informed, and hopefully reduce stress throughout the process.
Take Diligent Notes
Doctor’s visits can be scary and talking to insurance companies is often frustrating. You’re receiving lots of important information in a very short timeframe, and there are new terms flying around. Whenever possible, keep a written record of your conversations, including the date, name of the person with whom you spoke, and the details of what was discussed. You could even ask the insurance agent or doctor if it’s ok for you to record the conversation.
To lessen stress and overwhelm, try to write down your questions ahead of time and also note questions that come up during the meeting or consultation.
Save and Document Everything
Documentation is key to tracking medical expenses and knowing what’s been paid vs what’s not been paid. Whether it’s a spreadsheet, an app, or a big accordion style folder, you’ll want a system for keeping track of important care-related documents, such as:
- Hospital, doctor, and other treatment bills
- Insurance claims and explanations of benefits (EOBs)
- Approval and/or denial letters from the insurance company
- Authorization statements from your doctor
- Pharmacy bills and other receipts
Save absolutely everything and consider organizing by date and document type. Keeping the slew of paperwork organized is the best way to ensure you don’t miss any important details, payments, or credits.
Put Household Bills on Autopilot
There’s no way to guess how much your cancer care will cost, but you might as well plan for the things you do know. You may want to adjust your household budget to account for incoming medical bills and lower income, if you’re missing work (either to give care or receive treatment).
If they’re not already, consider putting critical bills like rent or mortgage payments and utilities on autopay. With your monthly expenses on autopilot, you can free up headspace to deal with new bills and paperwork that may come in.
Ask for Help and Seek out Resources
Fighting cancer (or caring for someone who is) is certainly not easy. Fortunately, there are financial and other resources out there to help carry the burden. First off, ask your insurance company for a case manager so you’ll talk to the same person every time you call. Doing so can alleviate a lot of frustrations and save time playing catch-up with every new representative.
Beyond your insurance company, there are national and local volunteer, service, and/or faith-based organizations which may offer financial assistance, such as:
- Catholic Charities USA
- Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains
- Jewish Family Service of Colorado
- Lions Clubs International
- Salvation Army Intermountain Division
Apart from financial services, available cancer care resources may include transportation, housing assistance, and emotional support through counseling. Cancer.net is another great place to start for finding financial, informational, and other resources in your community.
Managing “The Big Decisions”
If you haven’t done so already, we encourage you to start talking with your loved one about their wishes. While no one likes to think about it, there may come a time when the patient can no longer tell the health care team what he or she needs or wants.
End of life decisions are easy to avoid, but people with cancer often feel better once their wishes are known. If you’re a caregiver, talk with your loved one about the kind of care he or she wants. Or, if you’re the one in treatment, consider that it may be time to face these matters head on. Even if you recover fully, you’ll be glad you were prepared.
Advance directives are legal documents that outline an individual’s wishes for certain types of situations. Legal requirements for advance directives vary from state to state, so be sure to consult a legal and/or medical professional about your specific state laws.
Two of the most common types of advance directives are:
- Living will - A living will lets others know what kind of medical care a patient would want (or not want) to receive in case they are unable to speak for themselves. This applies to things like dialysis, tube feedings, palliative care, life support, and organ donation. It’s important to note that before your health care team can use your living will to guide medical decisions, two physicians must confirm that you are unable to make your own medical decisions, and that you are in a condition specified by your state as an unrecoverable illness or permanent unconsciousness.
- Durable power of attorney for health care - Also known as a medical power of attorney, durable power of attorney for health care names a person to act as proxy for making medical decisions on behalf of a patient who can no longer make them. This person is chosen by the patient and is often a family member, close friend, or another person you trust to carry out your decisions and preferences.
Other important estate planning documents to consider include legal power of attorney, a last will and testament and a revocable living trust.
Preparing these documents is not the same as giving up. On the contrary, making such decisions now keeps the patient in control, no matter what happens. They can provide a road map, as well as peace of mind for the patient, the caregiver, and the patient’s loved ones.
Most estate plans are set up with the help of an attorney practiced in estate law, a financial planner, and potentially a tax advisor. At Wealth Legacy Institute, we lead you through the entire planning process from start to finish, including connecting you with trusted partners with whom we do business - so you don’t have to worry. We are fiduciaries, which means it’s literally our job to put your needs first.
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