Finding Stability

How to Create a Cancer Treatment Budget

A cancer treatment budget may include expenses such as outpatient services, medications and transportation.

Managing your cancer treatment’s financial side effects may be nearly as important as managing its physical side effects. Creating a cancer treatment budget is one way to help you avoid financial surprises and stay on solid financial footing.

Cancer patients spent nearly $4 billion in out-of-pocket costs in 2014, according to the latest figures from the American Cancer Society (ACS). Your exact cancer treatment costs will depend on your insurance plan deductibles and yearly lifetime limit, but here are some of the most common cancer treatment expenses that your cancer treatment budget should include.

Hospital Outpatient/Provider Visits

The biggest chunk of your expenses — 58 percent, based on ACS figures — will go toward your outpatient treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and doctor visits related to your treatment plan. Financial counselors can help you determine what your insurance plan will cover per treatment or doctor visit until your deductible and yearly lifetime limit have been met.

Inpatient Stays and ER Visits

Hospital inpatient stays, from surgery or treatment-related complications, account for 27 percent of direct patient expenses. Not every cancer treatment plan includes surgery, but treatment-related complications, such as infections, may occur. Just as household budgets have an emergency fund, your cancer treatment budget should include an emergency fund.

Speaking of emergencies, emergency room visits account for 1 percent of cancer-related expenses. Cancer treatment plans typically include tips for managing symptoms before they get serious enough to warrant a trip to the ER. When in doubt, call your oncologist, who can decide whether you should go to the ER. Never tough out symptoms as some situations can quickly escalate in seriousness. Your oncologist may be able to tell you how common serious side effects are with your specific cancer and treatment plan.

Prescription Drugs and OTC Medications

Prescribed medicines accounted for 12 percent of cancer patient costs in 2014, according to the ACS. If your cancer treatment plan includes chemotherapy, you may be prescribed several medications to manage side effects such as nausea, vomiting and allergic reactions. Direct medication costs may also include drugs to manage pain after surgery or the side effects of radiation therapy. Your oncologist may also recommend over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines, stool softeners or stomach acid reducers, to manage side effects. OTC medications aren’t covered by insurance and aren’t factored into many cost estimates, so be sure to allow room for those in your budget.

Home Health

If you don’t have a strong support network of caregivers, you’ll need to add home health costs to your budget, which accounts for 2 percent of cancer treatment expenses. While it’s a small percentage of the expense breakdown, home health can quickly drain finances. The average cost of homemaker services in the United States is $131 per day, according to a 2017 cost of care survey by Genworth Financial.

Other Expenses

One expense that every cancer patient will want to add to their cancer treatment budget is transportation costs to appointments and treatment. If you can’t drive yourself, or need to reduce your costs, the American Cancer Society offers free transportation to cancer patients in active treatment. Your financial counselor at UVA Cancer Center can also help you find other free or reduced-cost services that will keep you within your budget.

Feeling good, both physically and mentally, is important during cancer treatment and recovery. Your budget may include massage therapy, gym membership and mental health expenses. Knowing what expenses to expect can be the difference between feeling overwhelmed and feeling in control.

For help creating a cancer treatment budget, speak with a certified financial counselor.

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Rita Colorito