With thanks to its valued Workplace Giving community, Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) is working to support and empower women with breast cancer to make informed decisions regarding their finances and employment.
A diagnosis of breast cancer should not mean financial hardship but for many Australian women this is unfortunately the case.
For over 20 years BCNA has heard from women about the financial impact of their breast cancer diagnosis on them and their families. They have told us their out-of-pocket costs are sometimes significant, particularly for women who choose to have their treatment in the private health system using private health insurance.
On top of the out-of-pocket costs for their breast cancer treatment and care, there is also often a loss of income if a woman has to reduce work hours, or give up work altogether, during treatment and beyond.
This year, BCNA’s Policy and Advocacy Strategic Plan: Towards 2025 priority is to reduce the financial burden of a breast cancer diagnosis.
This priority has been informed through extensive consumer engagement and research into the lived experiences of people with breast cancer and their key issues of concern. This includes our 2018 State of the Nation and 2021 Breast Reconstruction in Australia reports, as well as research into the impact of COVID-19.
As part of our work in this space, BCNA has recently established a brand-new Financial Impacts Working Group to work with members of our Seat at the Table program to discuss and address the financial issues that matter to them.
Health and finances can go hand in hand when you’re dealing with a major illness. Treatment for breast cancer can take months and months and knock you for six physically, emotionally, and financially. Without warning your income may drop sharply or stop altogether. Medical expenses big and small start mounting up. Even paying transport and parking costs for appointments can add to the financial burden. Savings get devoured.
On the list of the biggest areas of concern for a cancer patient, financial impact comes closely behind mortality and treatment issues. This concern relates to both the loss of income and the cost of undergoing treatment. What cancer patients need is transparent information at the right time to enable us to make informed choices to balance our health and longevity with financial well-being.
Of the issues discussed in BCNA’s first meeting with the working group, issues around employment for women with breast cancer was top of mind. The group was interested in providing resources to both employees and employers to support those with breast cancer to understand their employment rights, seek time off for treatment, and return to work in a supported way once possible.
The treatment and procedure options can leave your head spinning with concerns about mortality, loved ones, practical matters about the home, job security, income and weekly budgets and out-of-pocket health expenses.
Another topic discussed was the distinct need for more resources, support, and advice to help those with a cancer diagnosis make informed decisions around their finances. The group reflected on the difficulty in navigating the complex health system and needing to make life-changing decisions in short periods of time, including how to fund their treatment and care.
After 12 months of treatment, I was cancer-free. But I was also $20,000 in debt. When I think about the wide expanse of information available for people who are selecting a school for their children or buying a car - it can take months and months of comparative research. You would think when it comes to our physical health, in particular, a life and death situation like cancer, that we would be entitled to have the same level of information available at our fingertips, or at least, the confidence that we are making an informed choice.
BCNA will be using these insights to further inform our advocacy efforts as we work towards our strategic plan. We’ve made fantastic progress so far, working with federal government on projects to increase out-of-pocket cost transparency in the private health system, implementing the recommendations of our 2021 Breast Reconstruction in Australia report, and informing BCNA’s own service delivery with our financial impacts webinar. However, there’s much more that needs to be done.
We need your help to continue this advocacy. We want to continue to empower employers with the resources and education to support employees through a cancer diagnosis, we want to advocate for pro-bono financial counselling for all those with breast cancer to be able to access, and we want to work to drive the recommendations in our upcoming Election Manifesto calling for greater financial subsidies and support from the federal government.
We know breast cancer can push women, and their families, to the financial brink, leaving them reliant on financial assistance from family, friends and their communities.
The best way to support our work to reduce the financial impact of breast cancer is through yours.