Every single year, households across the United States grow silent from the phone call confirming a breast cancer diagnosis. Roughly 240,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women annually. That works out to about 1 in 8 mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters, and grandmothers.
As a Female Financial Advisor for several decades, I have been a strong proponent of women and the need to make time to self-check and have a mammogram to protect their lives and family. Early detection is a must. Through Financial Coaching, Retirement Planning, and Investment Management, my women clients know their future is brighter by working with me.
Besides the incredible emotional toll a positive breast cancer diagnosis will place on any woman, there are the financial aspects and risk management that are often swept under the rug. The United States does not provide universal healthcare. While there have been steps forward toward more accessible solutions via the Affordable Care Act, a positive diagnosis of breast cancer is going to be a challenge to retirement and tax planning.
According to the JAMA Network Open, the financial toxicity around breast cancer in the US is about 35%. To put that in perspective, all other medical conditions range from 6-12%. That is the high cost of treatment that will adversely affect a person’s quality of life during and after services.
Understanding the Financial Burden of Breast Cancer
In 2019, the out-of-pocket cost of treating breast cancer in the US was around $3.14 billion – and that is just for medication. Think about the situation like this. Once diagnosed, a woman faces lost revenue due to painful treatments, rising health insurance costs, and care-related fees that are not included at the hospital or center they visit. To say the bills and debt can pile up is an understatement.
According to the CDC, there are three “breakdowns” of costs associated with a diagnosis, each with its own average price tag like:
- Initial Phase: The first year after a diagnosis - $35,000.
- End-of-Life Phase: Year before death from cancer - $76,100.
- Continuing Care Phase: Time in between the first two phases - $3,500.
Before we dive into any estate planning or financial planning, I need to say something to all the women reading this post – get a mammogram. If you want to prepare yourself better, your family, and your finances for breast cancer, you need to be proactive. A mammogram costs far less than the cost of complete treatment.
The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women between 50 and 74 receive a mammogram every 2 years. If you are in the 40 to 49 age range, at least discuss testing with your healthcare provider, just in case. The average cost of a mammogram in the US without insurance is between $200 and $500. Insurance covers it pretty well because it is preventative.
There is also gene testing to see if you carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that tend to result in positive screenings later in life.
Financial Planning for Breast Cancer
Okay, now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s be positive. You can do this! A breast cancer diagnosis is not the end of the world, and you are stronger than you know.
Step 1: Understand Insurance
You must clearly understand your treatment plan, what insurance will cover, and any projected costs you’ll be paying out of pocket. This should include if you need to take time off from work or if you will need a caregiver as you move through the process.
Step 2: Organize
You need to look at the situation from a realistic perspective. Not knowing what can happen tomorrow is not a disadvantage. Getting all your documents, passwords, budget plans, and contact information gathered together ensures that you and your loved ones know what is happening with your estate as you move through this process.
Step 3: Inform Your Financial Advisor
At Meyers Financial, we work with women managing breast cancer. While it can be a shocking situation, it doesn’t mean we will not toss on our armor and go to battle with you. A heads-up ensures we are all on the same page and can help you make well-informed decisions about your tax, estate, and other financial planning.
Step 4: Legal Concerns
Be sure you create a health proxy and someone with Power of Attorney. These are proactive steps only. You want someone who can sign documents, make decisions, and inform healthcare providers of your wishes through the process in case you are unable to respond.
Step 5: Living Will, Will & Trust
Next, you’ll want to protect your assets and children. Different instruments like trusts and a living will ensure your wishes are followed and your loved ones are well taken care of during and after your diagnosis. Again, we are not throwing in the towel. We are just doing our due diligence, so when you get to ring that cancer-free bell, you will already have all your ducks in a row. This could include:
- Power of Attorney (as mentioned already)
- Health Care Proxy
- HIPAA Release
- Living Will
- Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)
- Beneficiary Designation
- And more
Step 6: Budget and Forecasting
Now that you have all the nitty gritty details out of the way, you need to formulate a budget that considers the costs of your breast cancer treatment, ongoing care, and medications – both covered and not covered by health insurance. This is sometimes called the “risk management” phase.
During this step, you will need to take an honest look at your revenue streams. Will you be able to work? Do you need a new job? Do you already have assets or incomes that will continue during treatment?
Once you know these costs, incomes, and expenses, you can forecast how things will look 1, 3, or 5 years down the road. A professionally trained financial advisor like one from our team at Meyers Financial can then discuss investments, Social Security, insurance considerations, and other aspects that will impact that forecast.
Step 7: Tax Planning
This is a challenging step. You will have a lot of medical costs, and many of those will be tax deductible. It is morbid to say, but getting diagnosed often results in a lighter tax obligation at the end of the year – not that it means any advantage to such a life-changing situation.
Here is where you need to look at flex spending accounts, HSAs, and any emergency reserves. Odds are you’ll need to consider your tax obligations and emergency reserves in a new light, as they will have to be replenished and estimated for the duration of your treatment.
You’ll need to consider:
- Do you reduce non-essential expenses?
- Are there different payroll deductions to take?
- Should you borrow from a retirement plan?
- Should my investments move to more aggressive vehicles?
You’ll want to speak to an adviser in all these regards. Each one of these can be a dramatic shift in your portfolio and must be considered from the perspective of taxes.
Step 8: Finding Help
Many organizations will help cover some of the cost of breast cancer. When you’re moving through your financial planning, you need to consider how you can alleviate the costs of treatment, transportation, medications, and other health expenses.
An excellent list to start with include:
- Patient Advocate Foundation
- Patient Access Network Foundation
- Cancer Support Community
- The Pink Fund
- American Breast Cancer Foundation
- American Cancer Society
- HealthWell Foundation
- Assistance Fund
- Family Reach
- Sister Network Inc
- Good Days
- Angle Foundation
- Hope Lodge
- Pan Foundation
- Corporate Angel Network
- Susan G. Komen
- Living Beyond Breast Cancer
- And more
There are even organizations that will help you get nipple and areola tattoos after treatment or wigs during hair loss. Given the lack of government aid, the good-hearted nature and hard work of these organizations is a testament to women supporting women.
Step 9: Breathe
The financial burden of a positive breast cancer diagnosis will impose an emotional and mental toll on your life. As you move through these broad steps and get into the details with a professional from our team, you need to remember one crucial thing – breathe.
You can do this! Get out, seek counseling, support groups, or intimate discussions with loved ones, and involve people in your treatment.
It is okay to make it a big deal because you are a big deal! You matter, and having a support structure around you is going to be just as important, if not more important, than ensuring your savings account survives.
Meyers Financial Services is here to help. We are a women-led financial planning service, and many of our team members have had close friends and family move through a breast cancer diagnosis. We understand the fear, anxiety, and emotional duress this places you under and want to be here to help guide the financial aspects of your journey.
The key is getting started as early as possible. The more time we have to prepare and prevent unwanted financial strain in your life, the better. Contact our team today, and let’s discuss how we can support you as you take on an incredible challenge – and win!