It's no secret that money is a major cause of stress for far too many people. A breast cancer diagnosis can certainly be a major cause of stress. Combine those two—yikes! While it's never a bad time to educate yourself about personal and family finances, the fresh start that a new season and month brings is a great time to do so.

But where is the best place to start? Financial literacy is defined as the ability to understand and effectively use various financial skills, including personal financial management and budgeting. But who anticipates large medical bills? Breast cancer treatment typically involves screening, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and oncological team and hospital expenses that can approach hundreds of thousands of dollars. Insurance and Medicare do cover many of these bills, but not all in most cases.

For instance: Breast cancer patients with lymphedema — a common side effect after the removal of lymph nodes as part of cancer treatment — experience an average exceeding $2,000 in out-of-pocket costs per year, compared to just over $1,000 for those without lymphedema (Forbes, 2020).

Are you familiar with your insurance’s deductibles and out of pocket payments? Plans are all different and most of us do not necessarily know the financial details until we are hit with a crisis and need to tap into medical insurance. Some plans offer low deductibles and copays while others do not. In fact, some deductibles run as high as $5000 annually. Even if and when you reach your deductible, it is never guaranteed that insurance companies will pick up 100% of the balance thereafter, thus adding additional financial burden.

In addition to the incredibly high costs associated with cancer treatment, oftentimes bills are incorrect, and many patients do not take the time to review their bills line by line. The nonprofit Patient Advocate Foundation estimates that about “half of all medical bills contain incorrect charges, wrongly denied claims or surprise bills”. They may charge you for the wrong service or charge you twice for the same service, or say you had an ibuprofen when you didn’t. That’s why it’s important to take notes during and after your appointments, make a note of the dates and the names of the doctors you’ve seen so you can easily remember the services, shots, scans, and infusions you received and be able to thoroughly review your bill when it arrives.

Lastly, many medical providers don’t include an itemized list of charges when they first bill you, especially for a hospital visit. Instead, they lump all the charges together in what's called a “summary” bill, with a “total due” at the bottom. Some initial statements don’t factor in payments from Medicare or your insurance company, which could give you the impression that you owe more than you do.

Dr. Greenup, a surgeon at Duke Cancer Institute, and her colleagues investigated the costs of cancer treatment and it’s impact on the patients.

“One-third of the participants reported that the costs of their breast cancer care turned out to be higher than they expected. Although most said that paying for their cancer treatment did not interfere with their other medical care, a quarter of the women with the lowest incomes reported avoiding doctors and medical tests.” (NIH, 2019)

Financial Stress is therefore most understandable.

As April is Financial Literacy Month, we've highlighted some resources below to help you learn about ways to lessen the financial burdens and stress of a cancer diagnosis.

Health Insurance Literacy and Financial Hardship in Cancer Survivors

A recent study indicated that health insurance literacy may be an important intervention for addressing financial problems associated with cancer. Rising costs of cancer care can result in financial hardship for cancer survivors—even among those with health insurance. Read More.

Ways To 'Celebrate' Financial Literacy Month (That Don't Cost Anything)

While it might seem like a strange topic to “celebrate,” the more education you have about finances, the more equipped you’ll be to make smart decisions. According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, financial literacy is declining among Americans. Read More.

The Association of Community Cancer Centers & Financial Advocacy

The goal of the Financial Advocacy Network is to empower providers to proactively integrate financial health into the oncology care continuum and help patients gain access to high-quality care for a better quality of life. Read More.

Steps for Managing Finances & Health Insurance After A Cancer Diagnosis

Studies show that cancer survivors with financial burden had significantly higher rates of depression. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize the financial burden of a cancer diagnosis. Read More.

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