Legal Resources for Cancer Patients

Every year, there are over 1.6 million new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States alone. These statistics mean that most people will be affected by a cancer diagnosis, either for themselves or for someone they love, at some point in their lifetimes. When you receive a cancer diagnosis, life seems to stand still. As you deal with the realities of your treatments, medications, doctor's appointments and all of the rest of life with cancer, you may be surprised to find that your rights, from financial rights to employment rights, are not protected when you are dealing with the realities of cancer. We here at RetailMeNot.com want you to know that you do, in fact, have rights as a cancer patient, so you can go to work to protect those rights as you fight this disease and regain your health.


Understanding Your Legal Rights as a Cancer Patient

As a cancer patient, and as an individual in general, you have certain rights that are protected by law, regardless of your diagnosis. During their treatment, patients may experience legal issues with their employers, health insurance companies, government benefits and even their estate planning. Unfortunately, these types of legal issues can cause stress and worry, creating an overwhelming situation for the patient. Without addressing these issues, patients may come through treatment, only to find that their jobs, homes or insurance has been lost.

So what rights do cancer patients have? If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, what legal protections do you have? Some areas where you may have legal protection include:

  • Protection for adequate care and communication from your medical team
  • Protection for fair treatment from your insurance
  • Protection against discrimination in the workplace because of your disease

These three areas cover quite a bit of ground, and for that reason patients need to fully understand their rights before entering into a cancer fight.

Are you looking for more information about your legal rights? Here are some general resources that might help:


Legal Resources for Employment

When you are going through cancer treatment, you are going to need additional leave time in order to pursue treatment and heal after aggressive medical procedures. You may also need more breaks during the work day in order to stay healthy. Unfortunately, this can cause problems with employers who are less than understanding about this need. The good news is that a 2006 survey of cancer survivors found that employers are increasingly sensitive and accommodating both for cancer patients and their caregivers, and co-workers often provide support to those facing these battles. However, 6 percent indicated they were fired or laid off due to their cancer, and another 7 percent found they lost a raise or promotion because they had cancer.

Most cancer patients, however, want to keep their jobs and return to work after diagnosis, if at all possible. If you find that you're being discriminated against in the workplace, you need to understand your rights in these instances.

Discrimination can also happen during the hiring process, when employers overlook qualified candidates because of fear of the impact of cancer on their ability to do their jobs. This is illegal, but patients are often unaware of their rights in these instances.

Both state and federal laws discourage employers from discrimination against cancer patients, and provide a legal recourse if discrimination happens. The Americans with Disabilities Act, enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, indicates that cancer patients who are applying for jobs or gainfully employed do have rights. Specifically, employers may not:

  • Specifically ask job applicants if they have or have had cancer during an initial application.
  • Withdraw an offer from an applicant who can perform the essential tasks of the job because of cancer.
  • Fail to provide reasonable accommodations for a cancer patient's needs. Reasonable accommodations are accommodations that do not cause significant difficulty or expense for the company or employer.
  • Tell other employees about the cancer without the individual's consent.
  • Deny a request for leave of a cancer patient because the employee cannot state a date of return.

That said, you may be able to avoid a legal battle altogether with these tactics:

  • Do not disclose your diagnosis in an employment interview if it does not affect your ability to perform the duties of the job.
  • If asked about your cancer, form a response that emphasizes your ability to perform the job, such as "I have been cancer-free for 10 years and have a normal life expectancy."
  • Camouflage gaps in employment history by ordering your resume by qualifications and experience, instead of a timeline.

If you find, in spite of these efforts, that you are the victim of discrimination, know that you have options. Here are some resources that can help you get justice in the face of discrimination:


Legal Resources for Insurance and Medical Issues

Unfortunately, one of the biggest battles cancer patients will face outside of the actual physical battle of cancer is dealing with insurance. The Affordable Care Act has made it a little easier for cancer patients to get the payments they need for the treatments their doctors prescribe, but many still face an uphill battle fighting to get their insurance providers to pay what they claim they will pay.

According to the Affordable Care Act, insurance providers:

  • Must not place lifetime limits on individuals' coverage
  • Must not charge annual dollar limits on covered benefits.
  • Cannot take away coverage due to cancer diagnosis, technical issues or errors on the application.
  • Cannot deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
  • Cannot require waiting periods greater than 90 days.

If you feel that your insurance provider is not living up to these requirements, you have the right to take legal action.

In addition, you have the right to expect fair, ethical and private care from your healthcare providers. In many states, the Patient's Bill of Rights passed by the American Hospital Association in 1973 has been made into law. The Bill of Rights holds medical professionals accountable for damages caused due to neglect or malpractice, and also requires that medical professionals keep patient conditions and records private. If you feel that your rights as a patient have been violated, and you have suffered as a result, then you can seek legal compensation.

If you are struggling with your insurance company or feel that your medical providers are not providing the expected level of care, check these resources for help:


Legal Resources for Estate Planning

A cancer diagnosis makes people stop and think about their end-of-life planning. While the goal of your cancer fight is to beat the disease, there is just something about getting a serious diagnosis that makes you stop and think about what the future could hold, and whether or not those you love would be protected if you were gone.

Whether or not you have an estate plan in place, this is a good time to take a closer look at it and determine if it still fits your needs. Talk to a lawyer, or do your own estate plan, but make sure it has the following parts:

  • Last Will and Testament: This document outlines how you want your assets or debts to be handled after you are gone.
  • Trust Documentation: If you have substantial assets or wish to avoid probate court costs and delays, consider putting your estate into a trust, which will protect it from probate court and end-of-life taxes.
  • Life Insurance: A cancer diagnosis may make it difficult to get a new life insurance policy, but talk to an insurance agent to see what options you may have.
  • Advanced Directive: This legal document tells your medical team your desires for your health care in the event that you cannot tell them yourself, such as if you are in a coma.
  • Power of Attorney: Appoint someone to have the medical power of attorney to allow them to make decisions for your care if you are incapacitated. This should be someone you trust. The document will also outline exactly what you expect to be provided in the way of care.

If you need further help in planning for end-of-life needs, take a look at these resources:


Finances and Cancer

Cancer takes a tremendous toll on your finances. In fact, a 2013 study found that this was a top concern patients wished to talk to their doctors about, yet many patients never do. If you are newly diagnosed, you are going to need to take a closer look at your finances to determine how you can stay financially secure during the days ahead. Time off work, insurance deductibles, prescription costs and travel expenses add up quickly, and you need to take measures to ensure they do not create a serious risk for your family.

Because of the way bills add up quickly after a cancer diagnosis, plan to seek help quickly after your diagnosis. Talk to your hospital about oncology social workers or case managers who can point you in the direction of local support services and resources. As your insurance company if you can have a case manager to handle your case, so you can talk to the same person every time you call for help.

Once you have started some fundraising and support, organize your finances so you have a clear budget. Create a filing system to organize bills and appointments, and keep all receipts for healthcare expenses. Look for places in your own budget where you can cut costs, because chances are high you will have less income and more expenses in the coming months. Always check medical bills for accuracy, and do not be afraid to dispute charges that appear inaccurate. Don't be afraid to look for discounts on prescription drugs or to ask for generic brands.

Finally, talk to a tax professional. You may be able to claim some of your medical and travel expenses on your taxes. If you keep detailed records, this will be easier.

The financial aspect of cancer care can quickly become overwhelming. Here are some resources that might help:


Avoiding Scams as a Cancer Patient

Unfortunately, any time someone is dealing with serious financial or health-related situations, unscrupulous individuals are poised to take advantage of them. This is the case for cancer patients, as they feel vulnerable while dealing with the health and financial impact of their diagnosis. You must remain savvy to ensure that you do not fall victim to a scammer as you seek to fight your diagnosis.

Scams can come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are treatment scams, claiming to offer a cure, when in fact they cannot. Others are financial scams, offering financial help but delivering nothing.

The best protection from cancer scams is learning how to spot them. Here are some signs that you are facing a cancer scam:

  • A treatment promises it treats all types of cancer.
  • A treatment claims to be a miracle or has some secret, ancient ingredient.
  • A treatment offers a money-back guarantee.
  • The advertisement uses technical or medical jargon.
  • The product claims it is safe simply because it is natural.
  • Advertisements show people who have been "cured." These may be paid actors.
  • The product is not FDA approved and is not in investigational trials to get FDA approval.
  • A financial service asks for bank account or Social Security numbers.

If you feel you may be facing a scam, talk to a lawyer or your doctor for advice. In addition to the advice you can get from your medical and legal care providers, here are some additional resources:


Where to Find Support

Ultimately, when you are facing the realities of a cancer diagnosis, you are going to need help and support. Start by reaching out to friends and family to get the emotional support you need. You will be surprised how many people will gather around you to provide help during the difficult days ahead.

However, sometimes you will get the most support from people who have walked this path ahead of you. Cancer survivor groups can be a source of great encouragement as you fight cancer. Here are some places you can turn to get support and education as you fight cancer:

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