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Legal and Financial Impacts of Cancer

Few people escape the financial repercussions of surviving cancer. For patients who must self-pay, the cost of treatment for the first year alone can exceed $100,000. For patients with leukemia or lymphoma, that amount can reach $200,000 or more in the first year.

Even those with good health insurance have reported spending hundreds of dollars in co-payments for one cycle of chemotherapy in a treatment regimen that requires six cycles. Out-of-pocket medical expenses for these insured patients can average $35,000.

In addition, some insurance companies may not pay for cancer treatments that they consider experimental.

Patients who receive treatment outside their hometown or state face the additional costs of travel, lodging, meals and other living expenses.

If the patient is the major wage earner, family income may decrease or even disappear once vacation and sick time are used up. Benefits may be reduced or lost. As a result, survivors and their families can face significant debt.

Financial issues can continue long after treatment has ended. Some survivors are forced into early retirement, which may leave them without health insurance coverage or make it difficult to find another job with health, disability and life insurance benefits.

While this is an issue that has not been well addressed, here is a list of considerations that may aid survivors in dealing with the economic impacts of survivorship.

The American with Disabilities Act: Know your civil rights as a cancer survivor. The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to be denied a loan or other financial service based on your cancer history. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights has basic information to help you understand the rules and process your complaints.

Medical coverage: Explore Medicare and Medicaid.

Income alternatives: Look into Social Security disability income and supplemental security income.

Life insurance: Investigate if this can be an important source of cash or the basis for a loan. Keep your policy if you leave your job. Some life insurance companies offer an accelerated death benefit with a pre-death payment. Or you may be able to sell your life insurance policy to a company for a portion of its value.

Retirement plans: Find out if this could be a source of cash and a way to fund a disability. Read your benefits book so that you fully understand your plan. Funds may be available if you are still employed and meet the plan’s hardship provisions.

Managing your money: Make minimum payments on your credit card bills and keep the cards in your name only. Consider getting credit disability or credit life insurance on your card, if available.

Other important plans: Make sure you have a durable power of attorney, a living will and a regular will with a letter of instructions.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center