Tag Archive for: Diahanna Vallentine

Is Inflation Adding to Your Financial Burden?

The stock market was doing well, until it wasn’t. For those of you who are invested in the market, things have been going splendidly for quite a while. Then comes the virus and job closures, people leaving their jobs for better pay. Home prices went through the roof. Many people made money selling their homes at a premium but then couldn’t find a home to replace it with. Rent is exploding. The cost of food is skyrocketing. You can’t find a decently priced used or new car anywhere. Sure, you can trade that used car you currently drive for a great return, but then spend the equity you made plus more into another car.  

How do you keep right-side up with all of the changes the world is enduring right now? 

Oh Yeah! Now we have a war to contend with and the fallout of it! How about gas prices soaring, way before the usual hikes around spring break and early summer 

Can you get a break? If you’re reading this you probably have already been struggling with the high costs of one of the biggest booms… Healthcare. This economic shift is a hard one. The gears are grinding and the brakes are shrieking.  

What are steps you can take to help mitigate, the best you can in your situation, the financial stress that comes from all of this uncertainty? 

Take a deep breath and I will give you some strategic steps you can take to help alleviate your financial stress and help you make the best of a difficult situation. 

First understand you cannot control what happens economically or politically, but you do need to be aware that there are risks that we can anticipate and be ready for.  

Here are some basic questions that you can ask yourself to help identify problem areas and then where to address these concerns so you can avoid financial toxicity.  

  1. What is your main area of concern?  
  2. Is it your ability to pay for healthcare?  
  3. Are you concerned that you may not have the insurance coverage you need? 
  4. Do you need help meeting your healthcare expenses? 
  5. Are you concerned about having to leave employment early due to illness? 
  6. Are you unsure of how to keep health insurance if you need to stop working? 
  7. Are you swimming in debt and need outside help managing it? 
  8. Do you need information about SSDI, or SSI 
  9. Are you having difficulty working due to your illness? 
  10. Do you need information about ADA and FMLA? 
  11. What resources do you have that you can use strategically to help you manage your overall expenses? 

I know this seems like a lot, but unless you identify your concerns it will be impossible to address your concerns effectively. Take a bit of time to ask these questions, write everything down and prioritize. Pull out your employer benefits booklet and get to know what options you have available to you through your employer. 

Get to know your insurance plan and what they are responsible for and what you are responsible for.  

Know what treatments you are on and their associated costs. Ask your treatment team if anything is expected to change so you can anticipate and prepare financially for the changes. 

If you haven’t done so already, ask your social worker about financial resources that you may be eligible for to help pharmaceutical drug costs as well as financial assistance programs through nonprofits and charitable organizations.  

There is help out there for food, utilities, medical bills, rent, insurance premiums, drug costs, travel for medical care and a host of other state and local resources. Now is a good time to take advantage of the resources. If you have a low income, you can even seek help through Legal Aid Society at no cost to you for legal help.  

Don’t let financial stress keep you from staying on your medical treatment or from keeping your lights on and food in your refrigerator. Ask for help. Seek out resources that can help you and your family.

Understanding the Oncology Care Model

Some of you may have received a letter from your oncologist notifying you that your oncologist is participating in a program called the Oncology Care Model. It was sent out to Medicare patients who are currently being treated by this provider. This letter informs you that you still have all the Medicare rights and protections including which health care provider you see. However, if you do not want to participate in this program, your opting out will require you to find a new provider. This can be very daunting for a patient that has been getting care and have a relationship established. Therefore, I want to give a brief overview of the Oncology Care Model, (OCM).

This program was developed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (Innovation Center) which was established by the Social Security Act and added to the Affordable Care Act. Its purpose was to test innovative payment and service delivery models to reduce program expenditures and improve quality for Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Insurance Program beneficiaries. The practices participating in this program have committed to providing enhanced services to Medicare beneficiaries, which includes care coordination and navigation, and to using national treatment guidelines for care.

Because cancer is such a devastating disease and because a significant proportion of those diagnosed with cancer are over 65 years of age and Medicare beneficiaries, this provided the OCM, CMS, in partnership with oncologists, other providers and commercial health insurance plans, the opportunity to support better quality care, better health, and lower cost for this patient population. It is intended to improve our nation’s health by providing clear measurable goals and a timeline to move Medicare and the US healthcare system toward paying providers on the quality of care rather than the quantity of care that they give their patients.

OCM focuses on Medicare Fee for Services beneficiaries receiving Chemotherapy treatment and includes the spectrum of care provided to a patient during a six-month episode that begins with chemotherapy.

The benefit to the patient would include enhanced services, including

  • The core functions of patient navigation to find other patient-focused resources.
  • A care plan that that meets your needs
  • Patient access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to an appropriate clinician who has real-time access to the practice’s medical records: and
  • Treatment with therapies consistent with nationally recognized clinical guidelines.

There is no additional cost to patients to participate in this program. Medicare will pay for the full amount of the services. There is however a survey that patients would need to participate in to provide feedback to help improve care for all people with Medicare.

To get a good understanding of this program so that you can make the best decision regarding your care, don’t hesitate to share with your treatment team any questions or concerns you may have. Visit online at www.innovation.cms.gov/initiatives/oncology-care or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Financial Fitness Workouts

From PEN-Powered Activity Guide VIII: Supporting Your Support System


It seems every day we’re being bombarded with ways to stay fit. there is always a new fitness program or a new types of fitness equipment that’s supposed to give us the best bodies we can have. But with those who are dealing with a chronic illness, fitness takes on a different meaning. Not only do we need to feel our best physically, we also must be prepared in every aspect of our lives with your sight always set on your best possible treatment and your continuum of care.

I thought this would be a great time to review four of the most impactful areas you can review, reallocate, and make the changes that are most appropriate for your specific circumstance.

A good way to look at it is, in the fall we make sure we perform maintenance checkups or in our furnaces. We prepare our gardens and lawns for the upcoming spring, we check the exterior for homes for energy efficiency and we do checkups on our cars to prepare them for the winter season.

Unfortunately, few of us take the time to review the foundations of our financial lives that in fact dictate our ability to remain on treatment plans and meet all of our financial obligation. It is my hope, that everyone takes the opportunity to review at least these four areas that I’m covering in this article before the end of the year.

Medicare

First, the big one for a lot of us, Medicare. As you know the Medicare season is almost upon us. And there are changes as there are every year. If you are already a Medicare enrollee, this open enrollment period gives you the opportunity to make changes if needed. And if you have been enrolled for 12 months or less and you have a Medicare Advantage plan you even have the opportunity to replace it with a Supplemental plan perhaps with guarantee issue If you qualify. Here may be a wait period but you may not be able to get in at a later date and the coverage may be better for you.

Also, if you have an HMO plan you may be able to switch to a PPO for more plan flexibility. Review your Prescription formulary if there have been changes to your treatment. The worst thing you can do is to not review your Medicare options as there are changes every year and more plans may be available to you and the cost may be better as well. Don’t assume that the cheaper the premium the better off you are. Review your total cost. That includes the premium, co-pays, deductibles, coinsurance, and the cost of your meds as well.

Life Insurance

Secondly, review your life insurance plan. Many people aren’t aware of the benefits that insurance offers. Such as, accelerated benefit riders in the event you need access to some cash or the options of taking a loan from your policy.

Additionally, if you are still employed, on your next enrollment period with your employer see if you can add or increase your life insurance amounts. Even if you plan to retire or terminate your employment next year or at a later date the cost to take life insurance with your employer may be the only place you qualify without medical underwriting and it’s much cheaper. Also, see if your employer offer a supplemental life insurance that you can enroll in that may be portable at your termination from employment.

Review your credit to make sure there isn’t anything on it that’s incorrect. If you anticipate making a big purchase this will really affect your interest rate.

Monthly Statements

Third, as a financial advisor, I found a lot of clients would not look at their monthly statements to see how their retirement accounts such as 401k’s and investment accounts were doing. You are doing yourself a huge favor if you keep up with these no matter if the market is up or down. Speak to your financial advisor to make sure you’re taking advantage of growth, income producing, and tax efficient opportunities.

Financial Assistance

And finally, don’t assume you won’t qualify for financial assistance. The cost of treatment is expensive and probably always be. Talk to your doctor or social worker to help you uncover sources that can help you pay for co-pay, deductibles, coinsurance and other needs.

Do this before you find yourself in a financial crisis. Be proactive with understanding your illness and the anticipated change in treatments that may be available for you.

Instead of waiting for spring cleaning, take the time to do a financial review now. Go into the new year in the best possible position you can. And then, like getting a check-up on your car, do the same for your financial future every year. After all, you are worth more than a car!!

The Difference Between Wanting and Needing: Redirecting and Prioritizing Spending

Often when I am out shopping, I find myself picking up items that I think I really need. I justify it rather quickly and find myself with buyers’ regret shortly thereafter. The most irritating habit I have is not returning it to the store and getting my money back. Last week, I was cleaning out drawers and found a few bags of clothing that I had every intention of returning but it escaped my attention. I also found dresses, jeans, shoes, several coats, and a suit that had purchased but forgot about. Some of them for my granddaughter who now had long outgrown them and for me, well I thought I needed them.   

I’ve also gone through storage and closets and found household items that “I really, really needed” at the time, but there they were never opened or rarely used some with the sales tags still attached. I thought I should add up the costs of these items and see just how much money I had wasted. It had added up to over a thousand dollars. Yes, I will donate these things to a charity such as a homeless facility, and, it makes me realize it can be a blessing to others, but is there a better way to serve than by happenstance? Am I doing a disservice to myself by spending without being mindful of where my dollars are going? I would argue that both are true.   

I’m learning to be mindful of all of my spendings. It’s making me prioritize my needs and wants. This is especially important when you have ongoing medical bills and prescriptions to manage and pay for. They can seem to be overwhelming at times. Though, I don’t have high medical bills currently, I do recognize that may not always be the case. So, diverting some money into an HSA or a regular savings account for the sole purpose of this future need could help me in the future. You can look at it as investing in yourself or, ” paying yourself first.”  

We all have bills to pay but rarely do we see ourselves as important as one of those bills. Consider setting aside $15 to $25 every pay period for medical expenses. Or, if you have bills that are already outstanding, call the service provider and request to pay a little toward those bills every month. You may be surprised how little they may be willing to take. They are in the business of service and you are their customer. Trust me, they don’t want you to leave. By putting a little each month towards the bills can help you stay in good standing with the medical provider and can help keep the bill from going to a collector and from hitting your credit report.   

Also, do what I did. Look around your house for things you no longer need or don’t want. Consider selling them. Not only will you be freeing up space at home, but you can also make some cash. There are online selling apps like OfferUp, BookScouter, eBay, and more. Terminate subscriptions you no longer need. Pay especially close attention to online subscriptions you may have forgotten about.   

Another creative way of finding more cash is to always make change when buying something at the store. Everything in coin change put in a jar. Deliberately seek out change-making opportunities. You may be surprised at how much you save. I did and saved almost $800.00 in a year.   

Consider online banks that may offer more interest than perhaps your neighborhood bank. Buy only what you’re going to eat. A study published in the American Journal of Agriculture Economics found that the average household wasted 31.9% of its food. The US total annual cost of wasted food was estimated to be $240 billion or $1,866 per household.  In fact, wasted food is the largest component taking up space in US landfills. And the United States discards more food waste than any other country.  That adds up to 30-40% of the entire US food supply. So, don’t waste and keep that money in your pocket.   

Spending comes down to desiring to satisfy oneself, however temporarily, and often supersedes logic. It’s impulse buying. Even when we know we should be directing our money to important things such as; managing the costs of healthcare, utilities, etc., it’s often difficult to stop wasteful spending. And the temporary feelings of satisfaction quickly wear off when bills start coming in.   

Getting control of this habit is achievable and not really complicated. Create a reasonable budget. Start by keeping a record of EVERYTHING you spend for a month. This may take a bit of work but is well worth the effort. Make a list of all your bills, including anticipated medical bills. Are you spending more than you make? I’ve found that when putting this down in writing, when you see it, it becomes real and important.  Putting together a budget is actually very freeing. It will allow you to reduce impulsive discretionary spending and allow you to focus on getting a firm grasp on your financial life. And, the payday of reduced financial stress is like icing on the cake.  

Financial Corner: Health Care Coverage Special Enrollment

One of the first things President Biden accomplished since taking office was by signing executive orders that will begin to restore and strengthen Americans’ access to affordable and quality health care. Let’s review what he has done and what that can mean for you, your family, and/or your friends. While you read this article, think of other people who you think could benefit and let them know. Just because most of you understand the need for quality insurance as a result of your cancer, others may not need it now but what if something happens in the future and they don’t have it? No one expects cancer to happen to them, it happens to other people, Right?    

The first executive order he signed in regards to health care was to reopen the enrollment period to sign up in the Health Insurance Marketplace (healthcare.gov). Many states that operate their own websites to enroll residents in the healthcare exchange have followed suit and have also opened. This special enrollment lasts from February 15th through May 15th, 2021. After a horrible year of the pandemic and the needs that have arisen as a result, this should be a huge step in bringing affordable healthcare to those who have lost their jobs and find themselves uninsured. The process is very simple and can be done via a phone call or online. And for those who have an illness, this is very comforting because the previous threat to limit access to quality and affordable care because of a preexisting condition is no longer on the table.    

In addition, President Biden is directing federal agencies to reconsider rules and other policies that currently limit Americans’ access to health care as well as consider rules and actions that will protect and strengthen that access.   

Agencies will be directed to review:    

  • Policies that undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions, including complications related to COVID-19; (Critical since some of these complications can be long-term or lifelong). 
  • Demonstrations and waivers under Medicaid and the ACA that may reduce coverage or undermine the programs, including work requirements;
  • Policies that undermine the Health Insurance Marketplace or other markets that sell health insurance;
  • Policies that make it more difficult to enroll in Medicaid and the Affordable Health care Act; and  
  • Policies that reduce the affordability of coverage or financial assistance, including for dependents. This is important because many people think of children and college-age adults only as dependents but this could be an adult child that is permanently disabled that you take care of.  

These timely steps could provide additional coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. Some of whom may qualify for free or subsidized health insurance.     

As a cancer patient, you realize the cost of healthcare. Having quality care and affordable care can be what allows you to be proactive in your healthcare with your healthcare team to stay on your treatment plan as well as to mitigate and prevent financial toxicity.  

While thinking about these opportunities, don’t forget to consider your current insurance plan if you are enrolled in a Medicare Supplement, Medicare Advantage, or employer plan. Review with your healthcare providers to find out if your treatment may change. Then inquire if the costs are going to change as a result of medication changes or treatment facilities? Or perhaps you anticipate retiring before Medicare age or going on disability. Perhaps you are already on disability and will be completing the 2-year mark and can go on Medicare. Now is the time to review your options before the enrollment period expires.   

Make sure you have the best possible insurance for your needs that you can afford. Don’t let an opportunity pass you by without investigating its benefits. Take a step to strengthen your health insurance program and possibly lighten your financial load.   

Additional information can be found at:  


Read the Full PEN-Powered Activity Guide VI

Is It Possible to Achieve Health Equity in Multiple Myeloma?

Is It Possible to Achieve Health Equity in Multiple Myeloma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can health equity be achieved for underserved communities in multiple myeloma patient care? Watch as a panel of myeloma experts explains.

See More From the Diverse Partners in Your Myeloma Care Program


Transcript:

Rebecca Law:

I want to ask each of you to answer a question. So how can we achieve health equity in the care of multiple myeloma patients sooner rather than later?

Diahanna Vallentine:

I think we all appreciate the fact that the African American or underserved communities do not have enough people that are either willing or know that we need to go into those communities the way they are, meet the people the way they are, so that we can provide them with education, with resources, that are available. I think that is one of the first steps. And fortunately, or unfortunately, with the racial problems we’re having in our country right now, a lot of governors and mayors are opening up opportunities that we got to get into the communities. And I think this might be a great opportunity for the myeloma community to perhaps step up and say we would like to be presented or represented in the community when there are funds and when the interest is really high. I think that if we could establish a foothold that way, then we can just go on and work toward lessening that gap and disparities in the undeserved communities.

Dr. Sikander Ailawadhi:

Diahanna, that was really nicely put. I think what I can add to that is that we basically are already seeing a lot more discussion, a lot more focus coming up to this topic of racial disparity in multiple myeloma at different levels. So, what we need to do is continue to build upon that momentum, continue to build the relationships so that there is actually a combined force from various aspects. I would love to do telehealth going forward, but like Dr. Usmani brought up, if there is not enough reimbursement or leadership or legislation to support all of that, then our wants and needs may not be served fully. So I think developing those relationships, developing those partnerships and moving forward as we’re gaining momentum to address this particular question, this particular issue is extremely important. And I feel it is more hopeful and exciting in the future as compared to where we’ve come from.

Jenny Ahlstrom:

I would just reiterate what Diahanna said. I think it’s in building the programs that are simple enough for everybody to understand and utilize that makes just the usability of them as available as possible, and then building that relationship in those communities where the needs are. I totally agree with what Diahanna’s saying, you need to take the programs to the people where they are and not to expect them to come to your programs.

Dr. Saad Usmani:

I agree with everything that has been said on this topic. And I have to say that this is going to be a two-way dialogue, a two-way partnership. That’s the only way that this can succeed moving forward. Racial disparities are an inherent part of our everyday life, whether it’s in healthcare, whether it’s in other interactions we have with each other, and there’s a lot of historic perspective and context to that. This is not going to be a quick fix, this is going to be a long-term process. But it will have to be a partnership. And I’m talking on a broader level with myeloma care and better survival outcomes for all myeloma patients as the goal. But then looking at the overall societal goals as well, and trying to see how we can remove the inherent biases that everyone has and develop more fruitful productive relationships going forward in our respective geographic regions, but overall in our country as well. I think that’s the overarching theme and tone of the conversations we’re having in the country right now, and it certainly makes sense to do that for myeloma care as well.

Rebecca Law:

I want to take the time to thank each and every one of you for joining me today. On behalf of the Patient Empowerment Network and Diverse Health Hub, I am Rebecca Law. Thank you.