Are you prepared for the cost of surviving cancer?

2021-07-14
Live long and prosper - a Vulcan greeting made famous by Commander Spock of Starship USS Enterprise on Sept. 15, 1967 episode Amok Time. Live long and prosper - a Vulcan greeting made famous by Commander Spock of Starship USS Enterprise on Sept. 15, 1967 episode Amok Time.

Are you prepared for the cost of surviving cancer?

'Live Long & Prosper' in the land down under

The Vulcan salutation, ‘Live Long and Prosper’ was first made famous by Star Trek's Commander Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy). 

The phrase owes its now world wide familiarity to the fact that it does indeed reflect the hopes and dreams of all people - to live long and prosper.

Now regardless of whether you subscribe to the Star Trek universe or the Star Wars franchise view of the world (or neither - *gasp*) the good news is for the most part Australians are becoming healthier and actually living longer – 12 years longer than the global average, to be precise.

Jump Ahead

Live long and prosperCommander Spock, Starship USS Enterprise

With each new year, medical technology improves and so does the chance of survival from many previously life threatening diseases.

  • The upside is, as medical technology increases many more Australians are now being medically managed through their illness and into recovery over longer periods of time; where in the past some of these more serious conditions were akin to a death sentence.

But while the advances in medical science sees more and more Australians having successful treatments for chronic and often life threatening health conditions, there’s an emerging unequal risk in the cost of treatments, rehabilitation and survival.

The 200+ names of Cancer

Cancer is considered one of the top 5 leading causes of death in Australia.

  • Cancer is not one disease, but many. It’s the name given to more than 200 different conditions, each with its own name and strategy for treatment. 

Increasing survival rates

Detecting early stage cancer means treatment is much more likely to be effective and also – in many cases – allows for more treatment options.

  • The good news is, in the last decade the five-year relative survival rates from all cancers combined increased from 48% in the 1980s, to 68%.

Increasing survival costs

While Cancer does not discriminate, the cost of affording cancer treatment and medicines does.

  • The downside is, advances in medical diagnose means while cancers can be diagnosed earlier, not all available cancer treatments are publicly available through the governments subsidised treatment scheme, called the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
While Cancer does not discriminate, the cost of affording cancer treatment and medicines, sadly does.
An example of groundbreaking medical treatment not covered by the subsidised PBS system is Proton Therapy.

Proton Therapy, (also called proton beam therapy) is a type of radiation therapy that uses protons rather than x-rays to treat cancer. Usually, up to 60% less radiation can be delivered to the healthy tissues around the tumor so this can lower the risk of radiation damage to these tissues and may allow for a higher radiation dose to the tumor.

This increases the chances that all of the tumor cells targeted by the proton therapy will be destroyed. It may cause fewer and less severe side effects such as low blood counts, fatigue, and nausea during and after treatment.

Increasing uncertainty about the future

No matter how treatable, a cancer diagnosis today can make a person's future suddenly appear uncertain and will bring with it a host of hard questions, concerns, and unknowns.

Among these questions inevitably will be a question about their finances.

The Health v Money question

There is no easy answer to this confronting question.

A cancer diagnosis changes a person's immediate world and their expectations for their future.

After a diagnosis, often the decisions a person may need to make are dictated by their financial resources.

It's not long before they are faced with the difficult question of, ‘What treatment can I afford?'

The harsh reality is the answer to this question often becomes the primary deciding factor for what treatments and what timelines will become part of their care plan.

  • “Do I wait and see how it plays out and use the public hospital system later, or do I get the recommended medications and treatments asap and take control of my cancer treatment options?”

For people without biological family support or flexible work arrangements, this can be a really really difficult time.

The financial toxicity of a cancer diagnosis

The types of costs associated with a cancer diagnosis can be categorised as medical related and non-medical related.

People living with cancer have to manage;

  • the direct medical related costs of treatment, and their resulting lost income from taking time off work (often exhausting all sick leave, holiday leave event long service - stripping them of backup options), and
  • the surprising array of non-medical indirect costs — like transport and hospital parking fees — that all contribute to what researchers call ‘the financial toxicity of cancer’.
  • It may surprise you to hear that some people report that ⅔ of their expenses during their cancer treatment were for non-medical related costs.

Cancer and its out of pocket expenses can quickly take a toll on survivors and their families by eroding the stability of their financial base and usually wiping out all savings, sick leave entitlements, and family favours.

Mind the payment gap

For people not yet touched by cancer in either their immediate family or social circle, this may come as a surprise;

  • Our Public Health system, Medicare does not cover all costs for cancer treatment.
  • Our Private Health Insurance system does not cover all costs for cancer treatment, and
  • The government's PBS does not subsidise all available treatment costs - it's the perfect storm.
You will have to pay any difference between what the doctor or service provider charges and the Medicare benefit. Private health insurance does not cover the cost of these out-of-hospital medical services. Medicare also subsidises the cost of radiation therapy in private clinics.
- The Cancer Council of Australia
  • Patients using drugs not supported by the governments PBS can face bills of up to $5,000 per month or more.
  • Around 72% of cancer Carers report a negative financial impact of caring and more than half of carers who work full time need to take leave or reduce working hours.

Spiraling non-medical costs of a big country

Many cancer survivors in rural and remote Australia report having to drive long distances multiple times a week to treatments.

People who live outside major cities have 17 times the odds of reporting locational or financial barriers to care compared to those living in metropolitan areas

People living in suburban areas cite the unseen impact of spiraling cost of tollways and hospital parking fees - all adding to the growing cost burden.

Still others cite the need of having to pay for increased childcare costs during frequent visits to the clinic just to be closer to treatment centres or at least improved public transport options. Still others have to move home altogether.

  • Whatever the challenge faced - you can expect that it's ultimately going to be expensive.

Cancer and its effect on a family's finances

Cancer is not a solitary disease. It can draw in extended family members and put unexpected strains upon immediate family members and resources too. It can lead to depression, anxiety, and usually conflict with other family members - all at a time when energy, focus and resources need to be on fighting cancer.

  • For those without family support these burdens, personal and financial need to be met personally and these associated financial costs to a cancer diagnosis, can be unrecoverable.

Medical & Financial recovery

The financial toxicity of a cancer diagnosis can often mean while a person may recover from its symptoms, financially the risk they face is often the depletion of life savings and even bankruptcy.

What can you do?

Do you need an anti-cancer plan?

Because cancer is recognised as one of the top 5 leading causes of death in Australia, a cancer diagnosis can be covered by a Crisis/Trauma insurance policy, designed to pay a lump sum of money upon a specific level of diagnoses.

Pro Tip: This is not an area that's suitable for a DIY approach, so use a Risk Insurance specialist like Sapience Financial for advice.

A Crisis/Trauma Insurance policy can often form part of a person's anti-cancer strategy as this type of personal insurance policy is specifically designed to make a lump sum payment upon certain types and levels of cancer diagnosis, at a time when you need answers to the question, ‘What treatments can I afford?’

Insight: The Numbers of Life: the chances of you needing to ever claim on a Crisis/Trauma policy before the age of 65 is statistically 1 in 3.

Do you need to use a Crisis Trauma insurance policy to help protect against unexpected costs of a serious health condition?

Using a Crisis/Trauma insurance policy to provide a financial safety net is a common strategy.

  1. Some people with Alzheimer's / Dementia in their close family history might choose a Crisis / Trauma policy that favours payouts upon a level of Advanced Dementia diagnosis.
  2. Others who are more concerned with protecting themselves from the financial effect of cancers in their close family history (usually breast and prostate) may choose a type of Crisis / Trauma insurance policy that provides higher levels of cover for Cancer diagnosis.
  3. Still other families chose to include their children in their own Crisis / Trauma insurance cover so that the family can receive a lump sum payment to help meet unexpected expenses should one of half a dozen specific children's related health issues, like leukemia or major head injuries etc. were to occur.

When thinking about setting up your anti-cancer plan, its certainly a time where working with a specialist financial risk adviser has significant advantages.

What you can do today to plan for a more predictable tomorrow?

Get to know the costs to care for different types of a cancer diagnosis.Average lifetime cost of cancers - Click to Open

  • Get a quote on $100,000 of Crisis/Trauma cover that's suitable for you.
  • Talk with your partner about how you would want to approach a major health issue together?
  • Talk with your parents about the known health history of your immediate family.
  • Talk with your GP about your health, and
  • Plan to live a bigger life.

What people are doing today

Grandparents not wanting to face the financial risks of raising their grandchildren themselves may pay the Crisis/Trauma insurance premiums for their adult children – just in case – as part of their Safety Net.

Parents recognising that a cancer diagnosis is a family issue may make sure they include their children on their own Crisis/Trauma insurance policies to make sure that their family has the best chance of recovery.

Business Partners ensure they have a Buy and Sell Agreement in place (and a copy stored with your financial adviser) along with an insurance policy as part of their strategy to provide funding to buy out the other partner in case one of you were to face a cancer diagnosis.

Single parents are prioritising on getting our estate planning documents in place; documents like a Power of Attorney or Power of Enduring Guardianship - even a Will that records your thoughts about possible Guardians for the children - just in case.

Pro Tip: Getting your estate planning documents sorted is doubly important when you have a mortgage with another person or if you have people in your life who rely upon you both emotionally or financially.

The best time to set up a safety net is before you actually need it

Whatever the steps you need to take to put your anti-cancer plan in place, we would love to help you out.

Getting your anti-cancer plan in place can provide a high level of comfort and a sense of control - that hopefully you will never need to use - at a time when the last question you want to leave unanswered is,

What cancer treatments can I afford to take?”.

 

Postscript

The less-well-known reply to the Vulcan salutation of ‘Live Long & Prosper,’ is the response, 'Peace and Long Life'. — Commander Spock — Star Ship Enterprise.

Contact us today and see if we're the type of people you'd like to work with.

Drew Browne

Drew specialises in helping people protect and provide for what matters most in their lives. He's an award-winning writer, speaker, financial adviser and business strategy mentor. His company Sapience Financial is committed to using business solutions for good in the community, and in 2015 certified as a B Corp. In 2017 Drew was recognised in the inaugural Australian Westpac Businesses of Tomorrow National Awards. Drew writes for successful Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs at Smallville, his blogs can be read on Amazon.com and you can connect with him on LinkedIn.

Any information provided is general advice only and we have not considered your personal circumstances. Before making any decision on the basis of this advice you should consider if the advice is appropriate for you based on your particular circumstance.

drew browne pic

Drew Browne

Sapience Founder & Director.
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