Carol Jones, MBA
“Financial Toxicity” does not have to happen to you!
Breast Cancer and Financial Planning Can Go Hand in Hand
Money is one of the most overlooked factors in dealing with breast cancer. Often when someone is diagnosed with breast cancer, their first thoughts are understandably fearful: thoughts about mortality, treatments, physical changes, and family or loved ones. Money is frequently the last thing that comes to mind.
It’s no surprise that the risk of breast cancer is higher among women than men. In fact, being a woman is the most significant risk factor for being diagnosed with breast cancer. According to BreastCancer.org, 13% of women in the United States—that’s 1 in every 8—will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. Breast cancer is also more common among Black women than others—and significantly more deadly for them. And while the risk of developing breast cancer is higher in women who’ve had a close relative with the disease, a full 85% of cancer diagnoses occur in women with no history of breast cancer in their family tree.
As a woman and financial services professional, I understand how scary this all can be. I also understand why financial planning and financial wellness wouldn’t be the first topics of conversation upon diagnosis. However, I hope that after reading this you’ll be inspired to add financial education and preparation to your list of priorities.
Financial toxicity is a term medical and economic researchers have coined to describe the emotional, mental, and physical—even life-threatening—toll of financial side effects and burdens linked to a cancer diagnosis. Even with health insurance, cancer treatment is expensive! Researchers have found that financial insecurity creates an additional, measurable layer of pressure on people’s health. It can create side effects and slow people’s recovery from the stresses of cancer treatment. In short, financial pressure can be dangerous for cancer patients and survivors!
Our healthcare system doesn’t prepare people well for the experience of a cancer diagnosis, either in support or in financial education about the cost of anticipated treatments. Most doctors, physician assistants and nurses are not trained to speak on these needs and refer their patients to business offices where there still aren’t enough answers.
For these reasons, it is vitally important that we become educated about our health and our health insurance and take steps to plan ahead and stay engaged in knowing your about our health needs. I have not been diagnosed myself, but I have seen what this disease has done to loved ones, co-workers and even clients. Every story is different, but the need for financial resources to fight this disease applies to everyone.
What can we do to get a firmer handle on this situation? One thing you can do in advance is get an insurance plan with a Health Savings Account. This will allow you to set money aside for possible future needs, tax-free and without penalty as long as they are used to meet medical needs.
If you are facing a more imminent diagnosis, here are a few suggestions to help:
- Be proactive about your healthcare costs.
Contact healthcare providers and get more clarity about treatment plans and what to expect. Ensure that the diagnosis and all insurance treatment codes are clearly stated. Ask your insurance provider about the costs and associated codes and what the expected out-of-pocket expenses will look like—both for deductibles and copayments. Do a thorough review of your treatment plan and if any part of it is not covered, or not covered fully, by your insurance plan, ask questions to get a firm understanding on how the claims and payments will work. Find out if, for example, you can submit a claim for partial payment or if all costs are out-of-pocket.
- Build your village of support.
As the old African proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It also takes a village to fight breast cancer. Build up your village and power team of professionals: healthcare providers, insurance, family members or friends that can help you manage bills and expenses, trusted loved ones to help on those days when you don’t feel like taking care of yourself. Dealing with treatment costs plus the day-to-day expenses in life (food, gas, rent/mortgage, utilities, family expenses) can be extremely overwhelming, so it is good to have people close to you to assist when needed. Seek professional support when you need it, too. Most hospitals and treatment centers can connect you with social workers and even psychologists or therapists. Don’t hesitate to connect with professionals who can help you get through this difficult time and stay mentally healthy through this process.
IMPORTANT: Be aware that due to HIPAA regulations, you could be required to have members of your team sign documents with your provider and/or insurance company so they can access certain information.
- Keep records of all paperwork and notes.
This could be difficult to do at first, but from diagnosis through the approval of your treatment plan and then every step along the way, save all your paperwork. Every time you call to your healthcare providers, insurance companies, medical business office or other services, ensure you note the date, time, and name of who you spoke with. When doing this, have each person you speak with repeat everything back to ensure you wrote everything down correctly. If you aren’t feeling well, have a friend or loved one who is an authorized representative help you take notes on those calls. Ask questions, and write it all down!
- Seek out financial assistance.
For those who need it most, there are financial assistance programs available for people dealing with breast cancer, such as the Susan G. Komen Treatment Assistance Program. Do not suffer in silence. Apply and see what help is available to you. If you are currently working with a financial professional, continue to consult them about what your options are to maintain your expenses during this process.
- Don’t give up HOPE and DON’T DO IT ALONE!
As you become wiser about conquering breast cancer and you have a financial plan to navigate this battle, you will feel some weight lifted and will be able to take on this disease with a healthier mindset. Financial stress can be damaging to anyone’s health (even if they are cancer-free), so the more proactive you can be about your health and financial future, the better. As women, we sometimes think we have to be Super Woman. We might not want to ask for the help we need and appear vulnerable. Yes, we are amazing, and we can do so much for our families and professionally—but we also need to slow down, take care of ourselves, and ask for HELP! There are lots of people around you who care and can help. Don’t be afraid to ask!