Finances overview

Monday 1 October, 2018

What is the cost of cancer?

After a cancer diagnosis, many people worry about how they will manage the financial impact.

There are many different types of costs that can add up during diagnosis, treatment and recovery. These will vary depending on cancer type, stage and treatment options. For example, a person diagnosed with early-stage cancer may only have surgery, while a person diagnosed with a blood cancer may have long-term treatments.

You may have health-related expenses, such as medicines, equipment and specialist fees. There can also be extra costs for transport, accommodation, child care or complementary therapies. At the same time, cancer may mean a loss of income if you or your partner/carer has to take time off work. At a time when people should be focused on their treatment and recovery, these costs can be a source of stress and worry.

This section outlines some key questions about managing your finances when you are diagnosed with cancer. You can ask your doctor, social worker or cancer nurse to help you work through these, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

How will my income be affected?

The way that cancer affects your income will depend on your individual circumstances. You may work on a casual, part-time or full-time basis, be self-employed, or work from home.

If you are working, ask your doctor how much time off you are likely to need or whether you will be able to work throughout your treatment and recovery. Most people who want to continue to work during treatment are able to do so in some capacity.

"My income was reduced when I cut back my working hours, but I was able to scrape by. I saved up some money during my paid sick leave." - Sarah

Check with your employer about leave entitlements and flexible working arrangements. If you are self-employed, you may need to find some other sources of income.

If you have a partner or carer, they can ask their employer to confirm their leave entitlements - they may be able to take carer's leave or unpaid leave to look after you and/or your children, if you have any.

Check whether you have any income protection insurance (also known as salary continuance insurance). You might have taken out a separate policy, or it could have been provided by your employer or attached to your superannuation. If you do have this type of insurance, find out whether it covers your situation, and whether there is a waiting period before you can make a claim.

For more information about managing your working life after a cancer diagnosis, see Cancer, Work & You.

How much will treatment cost?

Before you decide whether to have treatment as a private or public patient, ask the doctor and hospital:

  • how much will consultations and treatment cost
  • will there be any up-front or out-of-pocket (gap) expenses
  • do you offer flexible repayment plans?

The out-of-pocket costs associated with cancer may include:

  • general practitioner (GP) and specialist gap payments
  • scans or tests outside the public health system
  • over-the-counter medicines
  • medical appliances and devices such as breast prostheses
  • travel and accommodation
  • personal care, such as managing side effects from radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

If you have private health insurance, ask the insurer about your gap cover. Gap cover insures you against some of the difference between what a hospital or specialist charges you and what Medicare will give you back (the gap payment). Health funds make arrangements with individual doctors about gap payments. Choosing to see the doctors and hospitals that participate in your health insurer's medical gap scheme can help to reduce any out-of-pocket costs that you may be charged.

People who live further away from the treating hospital may have extra expenses. If you need to travel away from home for treatment, financial help is available for transport and accommodation costs.

How do I manage my finances?

The financial impact of cancer is different for each person and will depend on the cancer type, stage and treatment, as well as your financial situation before the diagnosis.

If you are struggling financially, talk to your doctor. They may suggest ways to reduce your treatment costs, or they might be able to keep seeing you as a public patient. Your doctor can refer you to a social worker or welfare officer for additional advice. In some cases, if you have no other resources to pay for treatment, you may be able to access your superannuation.

An important step in managing your finances is to fully assess your situation (see How do I prepare a budget?). If you are experiencing financial hardship, take action early to deal with the situation. The longer you wait, the more worrying the debts will become. Let the people you owe money to (your creditors) know about your diagnosis and money situation. Often they will try to help you.

Sorting out financial issues can strain your wellbeing and your relationships. Talking to a trusted family member or a professional adviser about your finances may help you to clarify your situation and find solutions.

There are several specialist financial and support services available. Call 13 11 20 to connect with Cancer Council's Legal, Financial, Small Business and Workplace Referral Service, or you can contact the organisations listed here.

What help is available?

When cancer affects your finances, seeing a professional for advice can help. Whether you should see a financial counsellor or financial planner will depend on your circumstances.

Financial counsellors

These qualified professionals provide practical suggestions to help people manage their personal budget and finances, especially those on low incomes; will act as a negotiator and advocate for people who are at financial risk; and can refer people to legal advice or other services. Financial counsellors provide a free service to their clients; they are not allowed to charge fees or commissions.

Financial planners

These qualified professionals provide investment advice to help people manage their assets and achieve their financial goals. They work for businesses with an Australian financial services licence. Financial planners do not usually provide a free service and will charge fees.

To find a financial counsellor or financial planner, see support and information.

"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's Legal, Financial, Small Business and Workplace Referral Service

It is estimated that 60% of people affected by cancer face distress from legal and financial challenges, in addition to their health concerns.

Cancer Council's Legal, Financial, Small Business and Workplace Referral Service may be able to help if you or someone in your family has cancer, or is caring for someone with cancer, and you need assistance with legal, financial, small business or workplace issues.

The program may be able to connect you with professionals who can help you with:

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

Advice is provided by legal, financial and human resources professionals, who volunteer

their time. The program is free for people who cannot afford to pay for it.

The Cancer Council team will ask several financial questions to determine whether you are eligible for assistance. If you don't qualify for free assistance, we can put you in touch with a professional who can assist on a paid basis.

Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to find out if the Legal, Financial, Small Business and Workplace Referral Service is available in your area. You can also speak to the social worker at your treatment centre and they can refer you to the program.

Cancer Council also produces fact sheets on common legal, financial and workplace issues, such as: Help with bills, Dealing with debts and Superannuation and cancer. You can find these on your local Cancer Council website.

How do I prepare a budget?

A budget helps you understand how much money you have, how much you're spending and how much money you need to cover your expenses.

Track your spending

Tracking how much you spend for a couple of weeks will help you understand where all your money goes.

There are several ways to track your spending. You can jot down expenses in a notebook, use an online tool such as ASIC's MoneySmart Budget Planner, or download a mobile phone app - visit the App Store (Apple phones) or Google Play (Android phones) to see what is available. For example, TrackMySPEND is a free, easy-to-use app provided by the Australian Government.

If you need assistance preparing a budget, you can speak to a financial counsellor. See support and information for contact details.

1. Choose a time frame

Decide if your budget will be weekly, fortnightly, monthly or yearly. Many people choose the time frame that matches their pay period.

2. Write down your income

For example:

  • take-home (net) pay and bonuses
  • income from investments, shares or property
  • government benefits, such as Centrelink payments
  • child support payments
  • repayments from anyone who owes you money (debtors)
  • any other income

3. Write down your expenses

For example:

  • housing - rent/mortgage, council rates, strata fees
  • loan repayments - car loan, personal loan, credit cards
  • utilities - electricity, gas, water, phone, mobile, internet, pay TV
  • insurance - home and contents, car, private health, life
  • health - medical, dental, pharmaceuticals, optical
  • transport - petrol, registration, repairs, fares, parking fees
  • education - child care, school fees, excursions and uniforms, HECS/HELP repayments
  • food and groceries
  • clothing and shoes
  • personal care (e.g. haircuts)
  • entertainment, holidays, gifts
  • child support payments
  • unpaid fines
  • tobacco and alcohol
  • incidentals (pocket money)

4. Calculate the difference

Work out the difference between your income and expenses. If your expenses are greater than your income, see How do I balance my budget? below.

Once you have prepared your budget, review it regularly, as your income and expenses may change.

How do I balance my budget?

If you spend more than you earn, that is, your expenses are greater than your income, see the list below for some ways to reduce your expenses and/or increase your income. You can read about the options that apply to you via the links below, or talk to a financial counsellor.

Reduce debts and expenses

Find other income

Expert content reviewers:

Keith Manchester, Senior Legal Counsel, Financial Services Legal, AMP, NSW; Alka Bisen, Financial Counsellor and Project Coordinator – Financial Assistance Services, Cancer Council NSW; Patricia Dunn, Consumer; Emily Gibson, Social Worker, Mater Hospital Brisbane, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Michelle Ruchin, Social Worker, Cancer Council SA; Robert Simon, Technical Services Manager, Tapln and Technical Strategy, AMP Advice, NSW; Krystyna Wisniewski, Consumer.

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