We know the financial impact of a breast cancer diagnosis can cause sleepless nights for some people and their families. Whether it’s facing high out-of-pocket costs, loss of earnings or inability to pay off debts, financial stress is all too common. The Beacon asked Antony Mitchell, a Financial Counsellor at Cancer Council, for some practical tips on what people can do to ease their financial worries.
How can a cancer diagnosis affect people financially?
A cancer diagnosis can affect your finances in two main ways – by reducing your income and increasing your expenses.
You and your partner, if you have one, may need to reduce your hours or stop working altogether while at the same time, depending on the diagnosis, you also need to pay for surgery, treatment or other out-of-pocket costs.
What are some steps people can take to reduce the financial stress of a diagnosis?
Ideally, it is important to be proactive and get your finances in order before you need support. You’re about to go through something very stressful, so don’t wait for it to become an even bigger problem.
My general advice is to manage your finances upfront, before starting treatment, and to seek advice if you have trouble achieving this. Once treatment starts you may be unwell and less able to deal with these sorts of decisions.
To start with, figure out what income and income options you have. This might include income protection insurance through your superannuation, negotiating extended leave with your employer, or contacting Centrelink to see if you are eligible for JobSeeker. If you have a partner, they may be eligible for a carer benefit.
Then, look at your debts. You can contact your bank or other lenders to see if they can offer you a reduced rate or an extension on repayments.
Be clear about the costs of your treatment before you begin. This is often referred to as informed financial consent and includes knowing what everything will cost and, if you have private health insurance, checking what your health insurance covers.
Lastly, you may need to review and reduce your daily living expenses. Think about which expenses are needs and which expenses are wants. It is also the time to check you are getting the best deal on your insurance policies and utilities.
What else should people think about in terms of finances?
Sometimes treatment doesn’t go the way you expected. I recommend you have a Plan B to deal with uncertainty of treatment outcomes. Plan A is if everything goes well. Plan B is in case it doesn’t go to plan and you need a buffer.
What support is available for people to help with costs?
Having a plan first and foremost is important. Then you can explore what support you need and if you are eligible for it.
Financial supports are sometimes available at federal, state or local levels. You can start by getting in touch with Services Australia, your state government, and your super fund. State-based Cancer Councils may also be able to provide some advice on other support that may be available.
The Cancer Council also has useful information for you if you are an employee, a casual worker, or self-employed, as well as information for your employer.
Where can people go for more information and advice?
You can find lots of information online, for example, on Cancer Council Australia’s website, or by calling 13 11 20.
Listen to Antony Mitchell on BCNA’s recent Managing the costs of breast cancer: tips and resources webcast.
You can learn more about financial tips and support in My Journey.