Caribou: Estimating The Costs Of Cancer

August 18, 2020



August 18, 2020

New and improved therapies means that treatment for cancer patients have become much more hopeful - but only for those who can afford them. With increases in the cost of chemotherapy, prescription pills, and overall care, cancer has become one of the most expensive diseases to treat. 

A cancer diagnosis can be a financial burden, leaving you unable to access the treatment and care you need. Having a smart financial plan and estimating the cost of your treatment can put you in a better position to plan for your care. Knowing if you can afford cancer involves having a financial plan, asking the right questions and estimating both expected and unexpected costs in order to budget appropriately. 

Breaking Down the Costs of Cancer

When estimating the costs of cancer, factors you need to account for include the following:

  • Treatment costs

  • Household costs

  • Potential changes in your income or ability to work

  • Your insurance plan 

Let’s break each of them down individually.

1. Treatment costs 

When trying to estimate your treatment costs, having an open conversation with your health care team about the type of cancer you have is important. Once you know the full details of your diagnosis, consider asking the following questions to get a good estimation of your treatment costs: 

  • What are the overall costs of my cancer treatment?

  • Are there any alternative options that may be less expensive?

  • Is there a financial advisor within the hospital I can talk to?

  • How can I prepare for these costs? 

  • Can I set up a payment plan?

  • What are the options for financial assistance programs? Do I qualify for any financial assistance programs?

Your care plan is likely going to include different types of treatment and may change over time. Therefore, knowing the full details of your diagnosis and knowing the questions to ask about the costs of your cancer treatment can allow for a much more accurate estimate of your costs. 

2. Household and living costs 

The costs of treatments are not the only expenses you need to include when estimating the expenses associated with cancer.  Cancer will affect your household budget, causing expenses to add up quickly. For example, you may have to hire a home health care aid, have less time to cook and therefore need to eat out, or use a taxi service to get to and from your treatment/appointments. Overall, it is likely that cancer will increase your household costs. 

To get a better idea of how your household budget can change following a cancer diagnosis, consider asking yourself the following questions: 

  • Will I be able to drive myself? Will my travel costs change?

  • Will I need extra help, such as a home health care aid? How much will a home health care aid cost? 

  • Will I be able to stay in my current home or will I need temporary housing during treatment? What will it cost? 

  • Do I need to hire an attorney to create a living will or instructions for my care and quality of life choices? 

3. Changes to your income and ability to work 

Being diagnosed with cancer will more than likely impact your ability to work, which can cause a change to your income. Consider asking your employer and yourself the following questions to better prepare and estimate the changes to your income:

  • Will I be able to work during treatment? What are my work options? Could I work part time?

  • If you need to take an extended absence from work, what are your options for returning to work? 

  • Will my employer insurance be affected? 

4. Understand your insurance 

Depending on your insurance plan, you may end up paying high out-of-pocket costs due to high deductibles, copay and coinsurance. Seeking out of network care and treatment will also contribute to a much higher cost for your cancer care.  Therefore, when trying to estimate and budget for your cancer diagnosis, looking into and understanding your insurance plan is an important  step to consider. 

How to Budget for a Cancer Diagnosis 

Having uncertainty about your ability to afford cancer can be stressful and overwhelming. Consider these tips that can help put you on the right path to affording cancer. 

Be proactive by understanding your costs and determine an appropriate monthly budget 

  • Talk to your doctor or health care team about your financial concerns as soon as possible 

  • Make sure you know what questions to ask your healthcare team in regards to the costs of your cancer treatment 

  • Know how much you are currently spending and consider additional expenses such as travel during treatment, medication, and loss of income

  • Plan for out-of-pocket expenses

  • Consider connecting with a Healthcare Advisor to look over where you are spending money and if there are any opportunities to cut costs.

Use a budgeting tool that works for you

  • Try keeping a specific amount of spending money for the week in your wallet. This can help you keep track of your spending and determine what you have left for the week.

  • Online tools can make budgeting much easier. To get started, try using Planswell’s Budget Calculator, Mint, or You Need A Budget.

  • Old-school budgeting: if you are up to the task, you can keep track of  your budget in an Excel spreadsheet or on paper