A serious medical condition such as lung cancer can create real financial difficulties for both the person with the disease and his or her caregivers. After a diagnosis of lung cancer, the person with cancer may have to take time off work as, to a lesser extent, will caregivers. If you or any of the other caregivers are immediate family members, this situation can create an even tough financial situation for the family. As a caregiver and an advocate, it is crucial to ask questions that will best help the person with cancer to recognize and plan for the fiscal impact of the disease.
The financial issues associated with serious health issues, and with cancer in particular, are not a new problem. Nor are these issues specific to lung cancer. The American Cancer Society has put together an excellent resource regarding the financial impact of cancer, including a list of important questions for the person you are caring for. This resource is available on the American Cancer Society’s website.
The financial issues that come up with a lung cancer diagnosis do not only concern the person with cancer; these issues can also become important for you as a caregiver. If the person with cancer is a family member, you should consider requesting Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) paperwork from your employer. The FMLA allows an employee time away from work to assist a family member with medical issues. Make sure that you understand all of the details of your employer’s policy; FMLA mandates that employees be given time off of work to care for family members but does not require that it be paid.
It is also a good idea for both you and the person with cancer to talk to any professionals who might help you navigate potential financial difficulties: your banker, your financial advisor, and a social worker. If the person with cancer is a Veteran, it is important to explore what Veteran benefits might be available to support them with the county Veteran Services Officer (VSO). These meetings will help ensure that you understand how you might meet some of these unexpected financial needs through use of retirement benefits, governmental programs, or other means. Having these conversations soon after diagnosis, instead of waiting until you are in the middle of a monetary crisis, can bring peace of mind to the person with cancer and his or her caregivers, including yourself.
Following a lung cancer diagnosis, one of the first things you should do financially is help the person with cancer to closely review any insurance policies he or she might have, to understand what is covered. Pay special attention to deductibles, co-pays, and the out-of- pocket maximum outlined in the policy. Unless you both have a lot of experience or background with complex insurance documents, you may want to request that the insurance provider connect you with a case manager who can explain benefits and address any outstanding concerns.
A lung cancer diagnosis can have a really devastating fiscal impact on younger patients. The younger a cancer patient is, the more likely he or she is to experience financial hardship due to outstanding loans, lack of savings, and insurance status. If you are a caregiver for a younger patient, you may want to help the person with cancer explore any family resources that might be made available to help cover the costs of treatment. Asking for help can be hard but could result in loans or gifts to help with some of the expenses. Often, families and friends will want to hold fundraising events, too, which can increase the circle of care while easing financial strain.
Another useful resource for financial advice is the health care team of the person with cancer. There are probably not financial experts, but these oncologist, nurses, social workers, and other providers have more frontline experience than anyone in helping patients with lung cancer manage all aspects of their care. They may be especially valuable in sharing insider knowledge about assistance programs offered by the American Cancer Society, pharmaceutical companies, and state and federal agencies. Encourage the person with cancer to ask these experienced professionals if he or she might be eligible to receive any financial assistance.
Finally, a simple way to cut down on costs is to help the person with cancer find the most convenient locations for regular tests, treatments, and office visits. If you can work with the patient’s health care team to schedule visits in locations that are close to home without sacrificing quality, you will not only combat fatigue and stress, you will save time and money.
Ultimately, your main role as a caregiver regarding financial issues is to make sure that the person with cancer does not ignore his or her financial well-being. He or she may wish to push any money trouble to the side, understandably believing that there are more important things to think about. However, such a mindset can cause small financial issues to grow into big, even major, financial problems. Help the person with cancer get out in front of these money worries and look for assistance when needed. By doing so, you will both stand a much better chance of weathering the financial storm that often comes with a lung cancer diagnosis.