Well being planning for a post-cancer future
My husband was supposed to retire last year. After he was 65, he looked forward to leaving the company to which he had dedicated 40 years of his life. But as the time drew near, he changed his mind. Since I was not yet 65 years old and the last medical bills that we had due to various tests in connection with my cancer diagnosis had been incurred, he thought it advisable to work a little longer. We had to make sure I had health insurance.
Cancer is expensive and even after the first phase of treatment there are always annual check-ups, tests and sometimes medication. The rising bills can take years to settle, and without health insurance, those on steady incomes can find themselves in quite a crisis.
I was insured with his benefits and would have health insurance until he retired. Although he hadn’t spoken to Human Resources yet, we learned from others that there might be an option to continue coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) for a period of 18 months after his retirement, but we would also heard that these payments were quite high.
So how do seniors who live on a steady income pay for additional cancer treatment? When I started thinking about this question, I felt pretty scared. Could we accept the recommendations of my doctors for future scans and tests without the protective shield of the usual quality provider services or would we be forced to choose according to our financial possibilities?
My husband and I were blessed to have 401K and were grateful that they had adjusted our posts over the years. Knowing that a cushion was available in retirement helped, but those funds would also add to our Medicare income to cover not only health care but living expenses as well. We had always lived humbly and thought we could probably make ends meet, but we weren’t entirely sure, so we decided to speak to our financial advisor.
The first thing the financial advisor suggested was that we make a list of all of our monthly expenses compared to our monthly income. That, he said, would give us a good picture of where we are financially. But his proposal was not an easy one. How could we plan for unexpected medical expenses like annual PET scans, biannual blood tests, and the possibility of unplanned complications that might require surgery?
We did our best to set up a monthly budget and came up with a few points that we could eliminate to ease our financial burden. But another area of concern emerged – how could we know in due course whether or not the oncologist would accept the Medicare mandate, and what would we do if he didn’t?
We had a small savings account, but it only lasted a few months of our mortgage payments. Any major uncovered medical expense would quickly wipe that out.
The counselor reminded me that I could enroll with Medicare three months before my 65th birthday, but I would need to get Medicare Insurance (Part D) to cover all prescription drugs and I would need to get Medicare Supplemental Insurance (Medigap) to cover healthcare costs that Medicare Parts A and B did not cover.
Had we known I was being diagnosed with cancer, we would have planned accordingly. But since no one can ever predict a catastrophic disease, the point has been debatable.
From now on we’re saving every penny we can and I’m doing everything I can to stay as healthy as possible. We don’t know what the future holds for both of us in terms of health, but that’s the best we can do.
For those who have not yet experienced a catastrophic illness like cancer, understanding ongoing medical bills related to a long-term illness can be difficult. Cancer, whether active or inactive, requires constant observation and care. Together, these expenses can grow rapidly and place a financial burden on a person.
Some hospitals and medical institutions give insured persons a discount. Some doctors offer a sliding fee for those on a fixed income such as Medicare or Medicaid. There are some less expensive generic prescriptions out there that will help people on limited incomes, but not always.
The best advice I can give as a cancer survivor and a fixed income senior is:
- Make a budget. Take into account all income and all expenses.
- Take a good look at your health insurance. Read the fine print. If you have any questions, call the insurance company and ask for clarification.
- If you or your spouse are about to retire, speak to HR about the possibility of continued insurance and its costs.
- Be prepared to add Medicare coverage. While it can provide significant help, it doesn’t cover everything and definitely doesn’t cover long-term care. Medicaid may cover some or all of the costs of long-term care, depending on a person’s income level.
- Start saving now!
It would be nice if quality health care was free for everyone, but unfortunately it isn’t.
Seniors, especially those with cancer, face additional challenges such as uncovered medical costs and may have to forego necessary treatments without proper planning.
One of the best ways to combat these problems is to be open and honest with your doctor. If you don’t have health insurance coverage, don’t be ashamed to admit it. Often there are other options. Some institutions even offer grace grants, paid by wealthy benefactors, to help the less fortunate. Remember the old adage, “It never hurts to ask”. And then, if you are lucky enough to get help: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Planning to survive the future after cancer is vital and requires quite a bit of work, but it can be done. In the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
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