Cancer treatment is expensive. There may be multiple types of treatment, including surgeries, radiation, and medications. There are novel, new treatments with high price tags. Individual treatments are now combined, dramatically increasing costs. As a matter of fact, The National Cancer Institute estimates that cancer patients commonly pay more than $10,000 per month for individual drugs/biologics!
Couple these costs with increases in insurance premiums, deductibles, coinsurance and copayments, and the potential loss of employment, long-term disability, and reduced employment-based health insurance, and you can see why cancer patients and their families suffer financial toxicity.
Financial toxicity is the burden of direct and indirect health care costs for cancer patients, which can result in psychosocial distress, decreased quality of life and poorer cancer treatment outcomes.
A new pilot program, Financial Cancer Care, aims to help cancer patients reduce both short- and long-term financial toxicity. Developed by Angel Foundation, a local nonprofit, in partnership with Ameriprise Financial, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and AbbVie, this free program is open to anyone in active cancer treatment who is over age 18, financially stable, not currently working with a Financial Planner, and living in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area.
“The last thing that cancer patients should have to worry about is the financial piece of cancer: the cost of treatment and drugs, the loss of a job, disability, needing to be on social security, only receiving a percentage of their income, or permanent job loss,” begins Alli Midwinter, Financial Cancer Care Program Manager. “It can become a rabbit hole of things they need to deal with, and it’s overwhelming to try to remember and keep track of everything, especially if they have chemo brain!” she exclaims.
Patients are referred to the program through their oncology clinic, Angel Foundation’s Facing Cancer Together and Emergency Financial Assistance programs, or through self-referral. They must first fill out an application with basic information, which Angel Foundation uses in their HIPPA-compliant computer program to research and find grants and resources that the patient may qualify for.
Alli then meets virtually with patients (and their caregiver) one-on-one. “We talk about stressors, what’s happening in their life, what’s worrying them.” Alli explains. “Working from that, I connect them to local supports groups, food help, and other resources that already exist.”
For someone with cancer, “You feel like you are stuck in a tunnel, doing all the things needed to just survive, whether that’s feeding the family, getting to treatment, or just finding enough energy to get through the day,” Alli describes. “Our job is helping them get out of the tunnel because there’s so many resources available to them.”
During this one-on-one meeting, Alli also educates cancer patients about health insurance, going over insurance terminology and talking about their understanding of these terms and how they apply to their situation.
Finally, Alli prepares the patient for their next 3 meetings with a pro bono (a professional who is donating their time) Certified Financial Planner (CFP). These CFP’s apply to be part of the Financial Cancer Care program, then receive pro bono training from the Foundation for Financial Planning or the Financial Planning Association of Minnesota, followed by cancer-specific training and its impact on families and finances from the Angel Foundation.
“With the CFP’s. I stress that a cancer patient’s situation could change in a matter of months, weeks, days, even hours,” Alli says emphatically. “Their diagnosis, their insurance, their income can all change. Preparing the CFP to be patient and not to have assumptions is a huge part of training.”
After meeting with Alli, the cancer patients meet with their CFP over roughly 3 months. “These meetings are spaced out, because we want to give time for a Financial Planner to work with the patients, to do what needs to be done to meet the needs of each client, whether that is developing a budget, a savings plan, or figuring out primary concerns.” Alli continues, “Financial planning is not just for people that have money to invest: it’s for people who want to gain empowerment and figure out how to utilize their cash flow to the best of their ability while they’re going through this difficult time.”
Generous donations to support this program allow participants to receive $250 in gift card stipends halfway through the Financial Cancer Care program and another $250 in gift card stipends when they complete the program. Angel Foundation has also partnered with Wilder Research Foundation to collect and interpret data about this pilot program and its participants to ensure that the Financial Cancer Care program is evidence-based and efficient.
Ideally, Financial Cancer Care would like to enroll patients in this program when they are first diagnosed, “before they have too many bills on the table, so we can make the biggest impact,” Alli explains. “By giving them financial tools, education, and confidence, they can go forward having these in their arsenal as they battle cancer.” However, Alli feels that anyone can benefit from financial planning at any time during active treatment. To find out more, contact Angel Foundation at (612) 627-9000 or Alli Midwinter directly at 612-627-9000 ext. 509 or email her at email@example.com
A huge thank you to Angel Foundation and their partners for recognizing a need in the cancer care continuum and instigating a program to meet this need. We are excited to hear from patients that have completed the program and will share Angel Foundation’s findings in a future blog.
Written by Amy Tix, Firefly Staffer and breast cancer survivor, who feels incredibly lucky to live in a region with so many amazing organizations looking out for people who have cancer!