Managing the costs of cancer

Friday 10 May, 2019
Managing the costs of cancer 

The financial burden of cancer has been discussed at length this year. But what exactly are the costs of cancer, and why is providing practical financial support to patients so important? Let’s unpack it. 

Last year, Cancer Council’s cancer nurses responded to more than 11,000 requests for support in Victoria alone. A third of these were regarding practical matters including financial and legal issues.

Cancer can come with many additional expenses that are not covered by Medicare or private health insurance. Medications, tests, scans, transport, and specialist fees that sit outside the health system add up and often need to come out of a patient’s own pocket. 

In fact, a recent survey by the Consumer Health Forum has found that half of Australians with cancer have out-of-pocket costs in excess of $5,000.

“Surgery costs $8,000; the hospital stay was $2,802; then there was the cost of medications, consultations, parking and petrol.

“The biggest worry that we have is that our primary income earner will need to retire at 40 due to cancer. We worry about how we manage a household with the reduced income, or that any time he takes a day off, he isn’t earning.”

- Anonymous cancer patient, on the out-of-pocket costs that their family is incurring.

“These extra costs are often unexpected and can seriously impact families, particularly if the primary caregiver has to take time off work for treatment, or to look after their loved one,” says Danielle Spence, Head of Strategy and Support, Cancer Council Victoria.

“When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you don’t know how much it’s going to cost you – and often no one tells you,” she continued. “At a time when people should be focused on their recovery, extra, and often unavoidable costs, can become a real source of stress and worry.”

Out-of-pocket patient costs for cancer can include:

  • general practitioner (GP) and specialist gap payments
  • scans or tests outside the public health system
  • over-the-counter medicines and those not covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which can include many chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments
  • medical appliances and devices including breast prostheses
  • travel and accommodation
  • allied health such as physiotherapy, psychology or dietician services
  • personal care, such as managing side effects from radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Ms Spence said that a series of unexpected bills can throw someone who is already financially stressed into financial hardship.

“People can be forced to sell their home, max out their credit cards or in the worst case, modify or forgo recommended treatment,” she said.

“According to the Consumer Health Forum survey, 1 in 6 respondents reported skipping medications for financial reasons. This is an alarming figure that’s possibly impacting the health outcome of cancer patients.

“Financial stress can also take an emotional toll, and can lead to depression, anxiety, and conflict with family members.

“It’s because of this that reducing the financial burden of cancer for Australians is a key priority for Cancer Council’s work. We’re currently working with Breast Cancer Network Australia, CanTeen and Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia to develop a standard for informed financial consent, and reduce ‘bill shock’ by ensuring patients are aware of costs when making treatment decisions.”

Need help managing your finances following a diagnosis?

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, Cancer Council can provide practical support to those who are experiencing financial distress due to cancer.

Our Legal, Financial, Small Business and Workplace Referral Service connects people with trained professionals, who volunteer their time and help with financial, legal and work-related issues that can cause extra strain on you and your loved ones. The program can help with:

  • gaining early access to superannuation
  • managing insurance claims and disputes
  • managing credit and debt issues
  • managing workplace and employment issues
  • handling disruption to your small business
  • preparing wills and power of attorney documents.

“You hear that once people are in the credit trap, they can’t get out of it. I called Cancer Council and ended up speaking to a financial counsellor. She helped me sort things out with the bank. My lifestyle went from unmanageable to manageable – it meant I could actually look after myself financially,” -  Vincent

Cancer Council can also provide small, one-off grants to people experiencing financial hardship following a cancer diagnosis, to cover everyday costs such as buying groceries or paying phone bills.

Call our cancer nurses on 13 11 20 to find out more about the services available to you and your loved ones or ask if you can speak to a social worker at your treatment centre. Read more about managing your finances following a cancer diagnosis.

Support services are 100% funded by people like you. Thank you.