The Financial Side of a Terminal Cancer Diagnosis
Learning that your cancer is terminal is a very emotionally challenging time. There's so much to think about, such as how you'll make the most of life when you know time is limited. There are also practical considerations to make, including what type of care will give you the best quality of life and how you'll pay for it.
Treatment After a Terminal Cancer Diagnosis
A terminal diagnosis marks a transition in the health care you receive. Before cancer is considered terminal, doctors focus on curative treatments to fight the cancer. However, terminal cancer can't be cured. While some patients opt to continue chemotherapy in an effort to extend their life, research has found that palliative chemotherapy reduces quality of life for many patients. People who pursue palliative chemotherapy are also more likely to die in an intensive care unit than patients who cease chemotherapy.
Instead of continuing chemotherapy, ChoosingWisely.org suggests people facing a terminal diagnosis choose care that keeps them comfortable and out of pain. Rather than struggling with the side effects of chemotherapy, which include fatigue, nausea, and brain fog, among others, you can focus on enjoying life to the best of your ability.
However, that doesn't mean forgoing health care altogether. You can receive treatment to relieve your symptoms, improve your mental health, and increase your overall quality of life. Below are some options available to you after a terminal cancer diagnosis.
Palliative care: Palliative care focuses on symptom relief. You can receive palliative care at all stages of a cancer diagnosis.
Hospice care: Designed to provide comfort at the end of life, hospice care includes both medical and non-medical care. Hospice care is only available if you're no longer pursuing curative treatment.
Mental health treatment: Mental health treatment helps you cope with the emotional impact of terminal cancer and provides a safe space for sharing your concerns.
General health care: You may also benefit from general health, dental, and vision care to treat the long-term effects of chemotherapy.
Paying for Treatment
Health Care Coverage
With some exceptions, the health care options outlined above are covered by most private health insurance plans as well as Medicare and Medicaid. However, a change in your treatment plan is always a good time to review your health care coverage. That way, you don't pay more out-of-pocket than you have to.
Three areas to examine are your prescription drugs, vision care, and dental care benefits. While Medicaid covers prescription drugs, original Medicare and some private health insurance plans don't. Original Medicare and most private insurers also don't include dental and vision coverage.
If Medicare serves as your primary health coverage, a Medicare Advantage plan helps you close the coverage gap. Medicare Advantage plans include all the same benefits as Medicare Part A and Part B along with supplemental coverage that may include vision, dental, and prescription drugs. Unlike Medigap and Medicare Part D, Medicare Advantage lets you manage all your benefits under one health plan. You can switch Medicare plans during the annual open enrollment, which runs from October 15 to December 7 each year.
Even with full health care coverage, out-of-pocket health care costs can be high. Insurance deductibles, copays and coinsurance, prescription drug costs, and custodial care all contribute to out-of-pocket expenses. To cover these expenses, you'll need to turn to alternative financial resources. Consider tapping into retirement funds, applying for an accelerated death benefit through your life insurance provider, refinancing a mortgage or selling a home, or seeking financial support from family and friends.
A terminal cancer diagnosis comes with a lot of tough decisions. While finances might not be the first thing on your mind, they're important to think about. When you know how you'll pay for care, you can enjoy your remaining time instead of worrying about the financial aftermath.
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