Laura, a single mother with breast cancer, no income, and no medical insurance, was over $300,000 in medical debt. While her doctors addressed her cancer, they could do little to help her deal with the devastating financial consequences of her illness. Fortunately, Laura's doctor referred her to a nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income people living with cancer. Her attorney was able to get her approved for Social Security Disability, and eventually Medicaid, which retroactively covered all of her medical bills. Laura's story is not unusual. People living with cancer face daunting legal and economic challenges. Many struggle with insurance disputes, obtaining public benefits, housing, loss of employment, future care and custody planning of minor children and estate planning. The ramifications of cancer have a particularly disproportionate and destructive effect on uninsured, low-income, and at-risk populations. The National Cancer Legal Services Network (NCLSN) was established in 2009 to increase the availability of legal services for people like Laura. By connecting cancer patients with legal services, the NCLSN works to lift their legal burdens, allowing them to focus instead on their medical care and improving their quality of life.
The Huffington Post’s recently published “When an Attorney Is the Best Medicine”explains that cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2020, there will be about 18.1 million cancer survivors in the U.S., which is 30% more than in 2010. Half of all men and one-third of all women in the U.S. will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Although the five-year survival rate for all diagnosed cancers has improved, the rate of cancer diagnosis and the costs of cancer also go up.
The National Institute of Health believes that by 2020, direct medical costs alone will be at least $158 billion—an increase of 27% over 10 years. This means patients often face great difficulties in paying for housing and groceries. Cancer patients with major financial issues are also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
However, attorneys who work with health care professionals can help with many of the non-medical issues that impede a person's cancer prognosis and life expectancy. Identifying healthcare coverage options, securing coverage, and assisting patients with providers disputes are some of the big problems with which attorneys can help. An attorney can also help patients with housing issues, dealing with Social Security and other benefits and end-of-life planning.
Legal assistance helps patients help themselves. Those who received legal services become better advocates on their own behalf. Healthcare systems see a benefit as well; with an attorney acting as part of the healthcare team, doctors are able to focus on the patient's health.
Fighting cancer alone can make anyone vulnerable. Fighting cancer and also dealing with a serious legal matter can have horrible effects on patients and their families. Work with an experienced elder law attorney and get help so you and your loved ones do not face a disease like cancer alone.
Reference: Huffington Post (August 14, 2015) “When an Attorney Is the Best Medicine”