Health & Disability Insurance

This video was originally published by LiveStrong on February 10, 2010, here.

Those affected by cancer need to understand health and disability insurance. This is an overview of things you need to know under current laws. To learn more, consult with those knowledgeable about insurance matters. If you are working, talk with your employer’s benefits coordinator and the insurer.There are often changes in how people in the United States receive health care coverage. Some of these changes may benefit people affected by cancer. To learn more and stay up to date, visit Also, the LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Services and Triage Cancer’s Health Insurance Resource Center offer guidance about insurance and other cancer-related issues.

If You Have Health Insurance

1. Read your policy to learn what is covered and not covered. Talk with the insurer to get answers to your questions. You also need to understand what the plan requires. For example, there may be certain limits on when you are allowed to submit insurance claims or to appeal claim denials.

If you do not have a copy of your insurance policy, ask the insurer for another. You do not have to tell the insurer about your cancer diagnosis at the time you request the copy.

2. Continue to pay the full amount of your insurance premiums on time. This will keep your health coverage active. An insurer cannot deny benefits for covered medical services when your policy is active. If you do not pay the full premium on time, your policy will be closed (or lapse). If your policy is closed, health coverage will stop.

After a cancer diagnosis, it can be very hard to find new coverage if an existing insurance policy lapses. If a new policy can be purchased, it will likely cost much more and have longer waiting periods. It may also exclude certain benefits due to medical history.

What to Think About in a Health Insurance Plan

3. Follow all of the insurance plan’s rules. For example, many insurance plans require that you contact them to get specific medical services pre-approved. This means that your health care provider’s office should contact the insurer before sending you for tests or other treatment.

Make a list of all your current health care needs. Include services and treatments that you may need in the future. Compare your health plan benefits to expected medical needs. This will help you decide whether you already have the coverage that you need.

If You Don’t Have Health Insurance

Begin to look for ways to find coverage if you have concerns about having no health insurance. Check out options such as:

  • Group insurance through a union or as a member of another group.
  • An individual health insurance policy that you buy for yourself.
  • Federal or state benefit programs that are based on your income and disability.
  • Services through county, community and hospital programs.
  • Insurance coverage under the health plan of a loved one.
  • A new job that offers group health coverage.
  • The insurance options finder tool at

Types of Insurance Coverage

Group health plans are offered through groups with employees or members such as:

  • Employers.
  • Credit unions.
  • Labor unions.
  • Trade groups.
  • Organization or association groups

These plans cover a large group of people. The insurer cannot refuse to insure any members of the group health plan. However, health conditions that existed before enrolling in the plan (called pre-existing conditions) may not be covered right away. This is defined by the policy.

Individual health plans are purchased by one person. The cost is usually much higher than group plan coverage. This type of plan may not cover certain pre-existing health conditions. When you apply, the insurer will review your medical history and decide what a plan will cost. They may decide not to sell the health coverage to you.

How to Find Out About High-Risk Pool Coverage

High-risk pools—Many states have organized private, self-funded insurance coverage offered through high-risk pools. These are plans for people who have not been able to get other insurance. Proof of this inability to get other insurance may be required when you apply such as copies of denial letters from insurers. The National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) offers a consumer guide to high-risk health insurance pools.

Laws that Affect Health Insurance Coverage

Be sure to keep your health insurance if you have it. If you lose your insurance, it may take time or cost more to purchase another health policy. Three important laws affect health insurance coverage.

Affordable Care Act of 2010 puts health insurance reform into effect over a period of years. The following changes in insurance coverage may help people affected by cancer:

  • Private insurance companies cannot deny coverage to children (under age 19) with pre-existing conditions such as cancer.
  • Health plans cannot drop a person from coverage when they become sick.
  • No lifetime dollar limits on coverage through individual and group health insurance plans.
  • Young adults can be covered under a parent’s insurance policy until they reach age 26.
  • Seniors with Medicare benefits to receive discounts on brand drugs by 2013. The coverage gap will be closed completely by 2020.
  • High-risk insurance pools set up in every state to provide coverage for the uninsured.
  • Medicare and new private health plans will cover preventive services (like breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening) with no co-pays and deductibles.

For more information and updates about the Affordable Care Act, visit

Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986 (COBRA) is a federal law that provides the right to continue health benefits for a certain amount of time after leaving a job. The former employee must sign up within a certain time frame and pay the full premium amounts. It also applies to loved ones who were covered by the employee’s health insurance plan.

If you know that you will be leaving your job:

  • Talk with your employer’s benefits department. Find out how and when leaving your job will affect your health benefits.
  • Learn about the COBRA coverage that will be offered when you leave your employer. Ask how much it will cost.
  • Find out about the dates for signing up and for making payments. Pay the full amount on time every month.
  • Ask when COBRA payments will start and how long the health benefits will last.
  • If needed, ask if you can get insurance benefits beyond the initial COBRA coverage period. Some plans allow this in certain cases.
  • Find out if your state offers insurance programs or other ways to keep your health insurance after COBRA.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law. It protects those covered by group health insurance plans. It limits the length of time a group plan insurer can refuse to cover pre-existing health conditions. It also protects personal privacy.

Under HIPAA, you may be able to keep health coverage if you go from one group plan to another. For example, if you change employers, the new group plan must cover a pre-existing medical condition without an exclusion period if:

  • You have had health insurance with no gaps in coverage for longer than 63 days and
  • You have had health insurance for at least the previous 12 months

HIPAA does not protect the coverage provided by individual health plans. If you try to change to a different individual plan, the new insurer can legally turn you down.

Some states have health insurance protection laws that are similar to federal laws. Check to see if your state has laws that can help you get or keep health coverage. Read more about HIPAA protections at

Disability Income Insurance

Group and individual disability income plans provide benefits if you are not able to work. There are two types of disability policies:

  • Short-term policies pay a weekly income benefit for a short period, such as up to two years.
  • Long-term policies pay income benefits for the time specified by the policy. This could be as long as the rest of a person’s life. It might be up to the age when a person can retire (65 or 67).

Some employers offer short-term disability insurance. The income benefits start soon after you cannot work. They may continue until long-term benefits start. Even if you become unable to work, pay the full insurance premium on time. Keep paying until you get a written notice to stop. If you do not pay, the insurer will cancel your policy.

Long-term benefits continue as long as you are disabled. The insurer will review your case regularly. Benefits will stop if you go back to work. They will also end if a health care provider informs the insurer that you are no longer disabled.

For more information, check out Triage Cancer’s Disability Insurance Resource Center.

Dealing With Insurance and Benefit Claim Denials

Always look into insurance and benefit claim denials. If you are denied benefits, you may need to appeal the insurer’s decision. An appeal must be filed within the time allowed by the insurer.

You or someone else may have to advocate or fight for your rights. Ask the insurer to answer your questions about the denial decision. Use all of your appeal options. If you believe that a claim denial is unfair, contact an advocacy organization for help such as:

As you go through treatment, you will need to share information with insurers and health care providers. If you are not feeling well enough to do this, ask someone you trust to help. He or she can keep track of insurance applications, claims, payments, denials and appeals. Your health care provider can also refer you to a social worker for help.

If you have questions about an insurance denial, an appeal or your rights, you can contact the Employee Benefits Security Administration. They are part of the U.S. Department of Labor and will offer free, confidential assistance.

Federal & State Benefit Plans

This video was originally published by here.


Federal and state benefit programs offer help to meet health care and income needs. These programs can help those who can’t work due to cancer, treatment or aftereffects.
  • Social Security Disability Income (SSDI): This program pays income benefits to people who are disabled. Benefits may also be provided to certain family members. You must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a certain number of years to qualify.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI): This program pays income benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources. Benefits may also be paid to people over age 65 who are not disabled if they meet the financial need requirements.
  • Medicare is the federal health insurance program that includes coverage options for prescription medication, doctor services and hospital visits. This program helps with the cost of health care, but it does not cover all medical expenses or the cost of most long-term care. Medicare services are for people with certain disabilities and for citizens or lawfully admitted residents of the United States who are 65 years of age or older. A portion of the payroll taxes that are paid by employers and employees finances Medicare. It is also partially funded by monthly premiums that are deducted from Social Security checks. Generally, you or your spouse must have worked for at least ten years in Medicare-covered employment to qualify for benefits.
  • Medicaid is a partially federally-funded health care program administered by the individual states. Each state sets its own income and disability eligibility requirements and service guidelines. Medicaid does not pay income benefits but sends payments directly to the health care providers, such as doctors and hospitals. Many states extend Medicaid coverage to people who qualify for SSI benefits. However, a number of states use their own eligibility rules for Medicaid and some require a separate application. Contact your state department of health for more information about programs that exist in your area.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid website helps you find answers about Medicare and Medicaid. There are online tools to help you compare and find the best Medicare prescription drug plan for your situation. The CMS also provides contact information for all state health departments. You can then contact your state or county Department of Health and Human Services office for help.

Finding Out Your Eligibility

Read about the federal and state programs before you apply for benefits. Learn about the medical requirements that make you eligible for benefits. Here’s who to contact and tools to help:

Applying for Benefits

Apply for benefits as soon as cancer is diagnosed. The process takes an average of 65 days. SSDI benefits generally do not start for about five months after the date you are found to be eligible.

Talk with your health care provider if you can no longer work or do your job duties. Your health care team may have ideas about changes that could help you continue to work. For example, you might ask your employer to change your work hours or some of your job duties for a time.

If your provider believes you should not work for a while, ask him or her to note this in your medical file. Also, try to get a letter from the provider stating this medical opinion. You can include a copy of this letter when you apply for benefits. Take the following steps to apply:

1. Prepare your case. Read about each benefit program. Understand what is required before you apply. This will help you include the documents that are needed such as medical reports.

2. Read the Listing of Impairments from the SSA. Read about what qualifies you as disabled. The SSA website provides good information about the medical proof that is required.

3. Talk with your health care team about applying for disability benefits. Ask them to write down treatment side effects and physical limitations in your medical records. Tell them about your symptoms. Give examples of how this is affecting your work and personal life. Ask that this be noted in your medical records. This information will be important to the SSA as your medical records are reviewed when you apply for benefits. If your provider believes you should not work for a while, ask him or her to give you a note or letter stating why you should not work at this time.

4. Consider your provider’s opinions and recommendations about your ability to work. If you and your provider do not agree, you can seek other medical opinions. To qualify for benefits, proof of your disability is required from a health care provider.

5. Keep good records. Keep track of all letters, bills and claims information. Also, keep notes about discussions between you and your health care team, the insurer and others. Write down dates, names of people and what was said. These records may be useful if there are questions or concerns in the future. Always keep copies of information received from or sent to insurers and benefit programs.

Who Can Help You Apply?

Ask for help if applying for disability benefits seems too difficult. For example, a social worker, friend, loved one or a nonprofit legal services group may be able to help you. You can also contact nonprofit cancer organizations for help with insurance and benefit matters. For example, LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Services can guide you through the process of applying for benefits.

You can contact the National Cancer Legal Services Network to locate free legal services to address insurance, employment and financial issues. Also contact Legal Health to get advice and representation.

Tips for Reducing Cost of Care

This video was originally published by Cancer Support Community on September 26, 2018, here.





Don’t Drown in Medical Debt

This video was originally published by The SamFund on August 21, 2015, here.

If you’re a young adult with a cancer history, you probably know that feeling in your stomach that you get each time a medical bill shows up, or the phone rings with a collections agency on the other end. As most of us already know well, medical debt can have wide-ranging consequences that negatively impact your credit and your future.
While you may be struggling today, there are steps you can take to reduce and hopefully eventually eliminate that debt entirely! In this Webinar, Monica Bryant, Esq., COO at Triage Cancer will share strategies to: avoid medical debt before you find yourself in over your head, reduce medical debt once it starts to add up, and shift and prioritize your regular expenses.
Additionally, you’ll learn more about resources available to help negotiate medical bills, how credit counseling agencies can be helpful, and why self-advocacy is such an important part of recovering from debt.

Paying for Clinical Trials

This video was originally published by on September 3, 2019, here.


Paying for Clinical Trials

Learn about the different types of costs related to taking part in a clinical trial, and who is expected to pay for which costs.

As you think about taking part in a clinical trial, you will face the issue of how to cover the costs of care. There are two types of costs associated with a clinical trial: patient care costs and research costs.

Patient care costs are those costs related to treating your cancer, whether you are in a trial or receiving standard therapy. These costs are often covered by health insurance. They include:

  • Doctor visits
  • Hospital stays
  • Standard cancer treatments
  • Treatments to reduce or eliminate symptoms of cancer or side effects from treatment
  • Lab tests
  • X-rays and other imaging tests

Research costs are those related to taking part in the trial. Often these costs are not covered by health insurance, but they may be covered by the trial’s sponsor. Examples include:

  • The study drug
  • Lab tests performed purely for research purposes
  • Additional x-rays and imaging tests performed solely for the trial

When you take part in a trial, you may have extra doctor visits that you would not have with standard treatment. During these visits your doctor carefully watches for side effects and your safety in the study. These extra visits can add costs for transportation and child care.