Cancer is a life-altering, stressful experience and worries about money make it even more so. While Australia’s health care system provides good quality health care, many people find themselves out-of-pocket for the services they need.
If you or someone you love has just been diagnosed with breast cancer you may feel overwhelmed. However, it is important at this time to get as much useful information as you can to help you make fully informed decisions about your treatment. This includes the financial costs of your treatment.
Below are some tips to help deal with the financial stress of breast cancer. These are just suggestions and you will need to consider your own financial circumstances when making your choice.
Tips if you have private health insurance
- You do not have to have your treatment in the private health system. You can choose to go public if you want to. You can choose or combine treatment in the private and public health system (e.g. chemotherapy and surgery in the private health system, radiotherapy in the public health system). Your doctor may assume that if you have private health insurance you will want to be treated in the private system but you are entitled to ask your doctor about your options.
- Get a second opinion about the costs of your treatment if you choose to go through the private health system. You are entitled to ‘shop around’ and ask questions about your doctors’ fees in the private system. You should ask for a fully itemised quote before you make your decision. Remember that breast cancer treatment is often not urgent - you will most likely have time to see a number of doctors to compare your options. This could mean a difference of several thousand dollars in your total out-of-pocket cost. This is particularly the case if you choose to have a breast reconstruction in the private system.
- Call your private health insurer before booking any surgeries. Your private health insurer will have a list of practitioners with whom they have a no or ‘known’ gap agreement with. Going to these practitioners will reduce the out-of-pocket or ‘gap’ payment you will have. You can call your health insurer before you book your procedures to find out more about no-gap or ‘known gap’ practitioners.
- Review what is and what isn’t covered by your private health insurance policy. The level of cover you hold with your private health insurer may mean you are not covered for some treatments, even if your level of cover is described with words like ‘top’ or ‘comprehensive’. You can call your health insurer before you book your procedures to find out more about your level of cover.
Tips for everyone
- Ask if you can have your services bulk billed. Over time the costs of tests and scans, and other appointments, can add up. You are entitled to ask for these to be bulk billed or for other payment options to help you better manage the costs. You can also ask your GP about accessing a team care plan for ongoing appointments with a psychologist, physiotherapist or other allied health professionals to deal with the side effects of your cancer treatment. These plans give you a set number of subsidised visits per year.
- Ask about free or reduced parking for people having cancer treatment at your hospital. Some hospitals offer free or reduced parking for people having cancer treatment. They vary from hospital to hospital. You can ask your oncologist or oncology nurse about this.
- Talk to your workplace about your leave options. You may be able to come to an arrangement with your employer that will help you manage your leave. The Cancer Council has useful information for you if you are an employee, a casual worker, or self-employed, as well as information for your employer.
- Keep a record of your expenses and your paperwork. This will help you keep track of what you spend and might help you down the track if you need to make claims – for instance, for your breast prosthesis if you choose to have one. You will also need to produce documentation if you need to access government benefits through Centrelink to help you while you are sick, or if you want to make a claim through your life insurance or superannuation. The My Journey Kit box can be a good place to keep everything together so you can get your hands on it easily.
- Talk to your utilities provider and bank about your situation. You may be able to suspend or adjust your payments for your utilities (electricity, gas, water) or your mortgage because you are experiencing hardship. You may also be able to get help with your utilities bills from the Cancer Council in your state or territory.
- Talk to a financial advisor. They may be able to help you work out a better way of managing your money while you are unwell. They can also explain to you the options you have and how they will impact you going forward. You may also be eligible for pro-bono financial advice from the Cancer Council.
- You may be entitled to government assistance through Centrelink. Depending on your circumstances you and your family may be eligible for financial assistance through Centrelink. You can talk to your hospital social worker or visit the Centrelink website’s Payment Finder to find out more about what support may be an option for you.
- Investigate your insurance options. You may have income protection insurance or other insurances that you have paid for or that are attached to your superannuation. Check with your insurance company, financial adviser or superannuation fund.
- Investigate your superannuation options. If you have metastatic breast cancer you may be able to claim your superannuation as a lump sum payment. BCNA has a fact sheet about accessing superannuation and insurance payments for people with a terminal illness.
- Use the help available to you at the hospital or cancer care centre. The hospital or cancer care centre may have an oncology social worker available who talk to you about services that can help you. You might be surprised at the support that is available if you ask.
- Let friends and family use their skills to help you. Do you have a trusted friend or family member who is good at filling in paperwork and collecting together important documents? Now is the time to talk to them about giving you a hand to get your finances in order. It can be hard to accept help, especially if you are someone who values their independence, but easing the burden will let you focus on your health and your loved ones rather than stressing about paperwork.
Do you have a tip that you found helpful when you were diagnosed with breast cancer? If you would like to share it, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.