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Cancer care and your rights


Insurance, financial and workplace issues

This section provides general information only about insurance, financial and workplace issues that may be relevant to people with cancer. For information specific to your situation, you should seek independent legal and financial advice.

For more information, see Cancer, work and you and Cancer and your finances.

Insurance

You may have taken out personal insurance policies, such as income protection or total and permanent disability, before you were diagnosed with cancer. Usually this will mean you do not need to inform the insurer about your cancer diagnosis until you renew your policy or change your level of cover. However, it is a good idea to check your insurance policy to see what it says about disclosing health issues. Insurance companies are allowed to refuse cover, but only on reasonable grounds. This does not include health insurance – it is unlawful to be denied health insurance.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance can be a major concern for people with cancer or who have had cancer. Insurance companies may view you as more of a risk. They may believe that you’re more likely to get sick and require treatment while you’re travelling, need to return home for treatment, or cancel your trip due to illness.

Travel insurance policies can cover the basics, such as lost luggage and cancelled flights, as well as overseas medical expenses and death or disability cover. If you have to disclose any pre-existing health conditions, be honest – a claim may be denied if you withhold information.

Applying for travel insurance

  • Apply for a policy well before your departure date.
  • Shop around – the terms and conditions may vary.
  • Ask your specialist or GP to write a detailed letter outlining your condition.
  • If you are travelling overseas, check whether there is a reciprocal health care agreement between Australia and the country you are visiting so you can access medical treatment. Visit the Department of Human Services website for more information.
  • Some credit cards offer free travel insurance if you use the card to pay for some or all of the trip. Read the fine print.
  • If you are denied travel insurance, ask the insurer to provide reasons in writing.

Financial issues

Several options are available if you are in financial stress due to your diagnosis. Speak to a social worker for support, who may suggest speaking to a financial counsellor to help you make a plan to manage your finances. To find a counsellor in your area, call the National Debt Hotline on 1800 007 007 or visit ndh.org.au. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for more information.

Dealing with debts

If you are struggling with debts, such as your mortgage or credit card bills, talk to your lenders about your financial situation and see what options are available. These may include:

  • extending your loan term
  • reducing or pausing repayments
  • changing to interest-only repayments
  • renegotiating your interest rate.

If you’re not satisfied with the response you receive, you can contact the free external dispute resolution scheme run by the Australian Financial Complaints Authority. If you're having trouble paying your utility bills, talk to your provider. They can often help you find ways to avoid disconnection and penalty fees.

Visit the Australian Services and Investments Commission's consumer website at moneysmart.gov.au.

Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 and ask for a free dealing with debts fact sheet.

Accessing superannuation

You may be eligible for a superannuation benefit on the basis of permanent or temporary incapacity or a terminal medical condition. Before you apply, it is important to get advice about how this will affect your retirement and whether there are any insurance policies attached to your superannuation account that you could claim on.

You may also be able to access some superannuation early on the basis of severe financial hardship. Talk to your super fund, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to see if we can connect you with a financial adviser.

For more information download or order a free copy of our superannuation factsheet.

Applying for government benefits

Services Australia offers a range of payments to people with cancer via Centrelink. These include:

  • Mobility Allowance
  • Disability Support Pension
  • Pensioner Concession Card or Health Care Card.

Centrelink benefits may be income- and asset-tested or have other eligibility requirements. Medicare has reimbursement programs for people who require certain medical supplies, such as prostheses or stoma accessories.

For more information, see the Department of Human Services website or talk to your social worker.

If cancer or its treatment has caused permanent and significant disability, you may be eligible for support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Call 1800 800 110 or ndis.gov.au.

Workplace issues

If you are employed or hope to return to work after treatment, you might wonder how cancer will affect your job. You may be concerned about your leave entitlements, discrimination at work, unfair dismissal or your right to flexible working hours.

Some of the issues described here differ between states and territories, and they may depend on the industry you work in. For more specific information, call 13 11 20 or see our information and fact sheets about employment issues, including compensation for work-related cancer.

Workplace changes

Employers have to take reasonable steps (called "reasonable adjustments") to accommodate an employee's illness and to help them do their job, including allowing additional breaks or modifying your workstation.

An employer can only refuse a request for reasonable adjustments if the changes would cause unjustifiable hardship to their business or on reasonable business grounds. If this happens, you can seek help from the Fair Work Ombudsman or the discrimination agency in your state or territory. 

Flexible working arrangements

Employees who have worked for their employer for at least 12 months have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements to help manage their work. Employees covered by an Award may also have some extra rights. Flexible working arrangements differ on a case-by-case basis, but may include working from home some or all days or varying your hours. 

Employers can only refuse a request for flexible working arrangements on reasonable business grounds. If your request is refused, you may seek help from the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Fair Work Commission or your state and territory discrimination agency.

Taking leave

All full-time employees except casuals are entitled to 10 days of paid personal leave each year, including sick leave. Part-time employees receive this entitlement on a pro rata basis. If you need to take more time off, you may be able to take unpaid leave or make another arrangement with your employer.

Discrimination

Being discriminated against at work because you have cancer is against the law. Examples of discrimination include being denied a promotion, demoting you to a lower paid position, dismissing you or refusing to hire you for a reason related to your cancer diagnosis.

If you think you’re being discriminated against, you can lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission or the anti-discrimination, equal opportunity or human rights agency in your state or territory (see below).

If you have been dismissed from your job or experienced other disadvantage due to your cancer diagnosis, you may be able to lodge a complaint with the Fair Work Commission. You must lodge claims within 21 days of being dismissed and meeting some other conditions. For more information, see Cancer, work and you.

Most complaints are resolved through mediation or conciliation, which is an informal type of resolution. If mediation doesn’t work, you may go to an administrative tribunal. 

State/territory Discrimination agencies
Australian Capital Territory ACT Human Rights Commission
New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW
Northern Territory Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission
1800 813 846 
Queensland Queensland of Human Rights Commission 
South Australia Equal Opportunity Commissioner of SA
Tasmania Equal Opportunity Tasmania
Victoria Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission
Western Australia Equal Opportunity Commission

Key points

 

  • You may have insurance policies that cover you when you are diagnosed with cancer.
  • Insurance companies (excluding health insurers) are allowed to refuse cover for new policies, but only on reasonable grounds.
  • Travel insurance can be a major concern for people with cancer or who have had cancer. It should be possible to get a basic plan to cover lost luggage, theft and cancelled flights.
  • Some travel insurers don’t cover medical expenses for people who have had cancer. You can ask for the reasons for a refusal of cover in writing.

 

  • If cancer causes financial issues, you may consider accessing your superannuation.
  • Services Australia (Centrelink) offers benefits and pensions to people with cancer.
  • Medicare also offers reimbursement schemes for some products and equipment.
  • If you have cancer and are struggling with debts, such as your home loan or credit cards, talk to your lenders about your situation.
  • A financial counsellor can help you to budget and work out a plan to manage your debts.

 

  • If you are working, you can talk to your employer about taking leave and changing your work arrangements during treatment and recovery.
  • It is generally against the law for employers to discriminate against you, pressure you to resign or dismiss you because you have cancer.

 

Cancer Care and Your Rights

Download our Cancer Care and Your Rights booklet to learn more and find support.

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Expert content reviewers:

Prof Sarah Lewis, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, NSW; Kevin Bloom, Senior Social Worker, Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Danielle Curnoe, Consumer; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Gastro-Intestinal Cancers, Cancer Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Hall & Wilcox (law firm); Johanna Jordaan, Consumer; Dr Deme Karikios, Medical Oncologist, Nepean Cancer and Wellness Centre, Nepean Hospital, NSW; Melissa Lawrie, Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse, Cancer Services, Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Jacqueline Lesage, Consumer Reviewer, Cancer Voices NSW; McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Louise Pellerade, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Andrew Potter, Consumer; Siân Slade, PhD Candidate, Nossal Institute for Global Health and Non-Executive Director (health, disability sectors), VIC; Paula Watt, Clinical Psychologist, WOMEN Centre, WA.

Page last updated:

The information on this webpage was adapted from Cancer Care and Your Rights (2023 edition). This webpage was last updated in July 2023. 

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