Facing the Financial Challenges of Breast Cancer

Facing the Financial Challenges of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer. Money.

We don't often think of these words together. When a person is diagnosed with breast cancer, so many other things come to mind. Death, treatment, family, fear. Money doesn't usually crack the top five thoughts.

However, as reality sets in and healthcare providers start explaining next steps, there is this light that turns on — treating this disease is going to take a bunch of resources. It's not uncommon to feel overwhelmed.

Although I have not had this diagnosis myself, I have seen these scenes play out repeatedly with friends. Each one has tackled her situation in a very personal way. Nonetheless, I know that every single one of them has had to make big decisions about financial resources.

Having to navigate a fractured and opaque healthcare system makes the challenge all the more arduous. So much information is available to us on the internet, but figuring out how to apply generic advice to your individual case can be difficult. Chances are that your doctors, physician assistants, and nurses are not clear about the costs associated with the treatments they recommend. And they certainly can't predict the ins and outs of individual insurance plans. They refer their patients to their business office to sort through insurance questions.

So what can you do to get a better handle on the situation? These three tips are crucial and can apply to any medical situation:

  1. Create a team.
    In addition to your healthcare team, create a business team — folks close to you that can help you navigate the bills and insurance. Maybe a partner, or a sibling, or a friend. It’s hard to sort out your bills when you’re not well. Fogginess, fatigue, nausea, and pain will mitigate your ability to be analytical — I guarantee it. Be aware, however: due to HIPAA regulations, you might be required to have members of your business team sign documents with your provider and/or insurance company in order to access certain information.
     
  2. Be proactive.
    Ask your healthcare providers to be as specific as possible about your treatment plan. Get clear information about the diagnosis and the insurance treatment codes. Check with your insurance provider about the costs associated with these codes and your expected out-of-pocket expenses — both deductibles and copayments. And be sure to monitor your insurance payments online. Why? To catch any mistakes early. And I guarantee there will be mistakes. When you find a mistake, reach out to your insurance company and/or your healthcare provider’s business department immediately. (This is where your team comes in handy.)
     
  3. Keep all paperwork and notes. 
    This is important and sometimes hard to do. From the time your treatment is approved, save all of the paperwork. It should include your treatment codes. Whenever you call your insurance company or the medical business office, be sure to note the date, time, and name of the person you speak with. When you're discussing next steps, repeat everything back to make sure you have understood it correctly. Write down everything. Believe me, you will have to repeat yourself many times. If you are choosing a treatment plan that is not covered, or not fully covered, by your insurance plan, make sure you understand how the payments and claims will work — for example, whether you can submit a claim for partial payment or if all costs will be out of pocket.
     

It is demanding to be ill and a top-notch and focused businesswoman at the same time. As women, we can sometimes be slow to ask for help and guidance—we don’t want to expose our vulnerability. Get over it! It is unreasonable to expect to be ill and be a superwoman.

Whether you're dealing with disease, injury, or a chronic condition — speak up! Ask for assistance and guidance — and love and hugs. Don’t hesitate to ask someone to help you do the mundane, business parts of the journey. Believe me —  someone will be happy to step up and help. Your friends and family can be awesome. Just ask.