Living with Cancer > Practical Matters
As 2009 winds down, Michigan
continues to struggle with a
brutal economy. A national
financial meltdown is a very
personal struggle for many
here in the state with the worst
unemployment rate in 25 years.
Linda Zywicki, a financial counselor at the
U-M Cancer Center, offers options to patients
having trouble paying medical bills.
To schedule an appointment with a financial counselor call 734-647-8663.
The University of Michigan Comprehensive
Cancer Center has seen a rise in the number
of patients who are newly unemployed and
overwhelmed by medical bills. Our team of
oncology social workers and our new financial
counselor, Linda Zywicki, put together some
tips for coping.
If You Need a Safety Net, Use It
The sole purpose of public assistance is to help
Americans in crisis. If you need help paying
your medical bills, you may qualify for assistance,
including Medicaid. For some, it can
be difficult to admit they need financial help.
"What greater justification does someone need
to have besides acquiring a health-care crisis
like cancer?" said social worker Chris Henrickson.
"It's not your fault. It doesn't represent
a failure on your part. You pay for these programs
with your taxes, so that theyre available
when you need them."
Don't Wait to Ask for Help
may be available to help you pay your medical
bills, but taking advantage of them can
be tricky. Zywicki and Cancer Center social
workers can help you navigate the daunting
bureaucracy of public assistance, but it's key
that you start the process early. Deadlines are
non-negotiable. Also, many other forms of
assistance -- such as the University of Michigan
Charity Care Program -- require that you apply
for Medicaid first.
Appoint a Financial Guru
cancer and its treatment is tough, so if you
arent up to handling the financial aspects of
your care, seek out a trusted family member
or friend to help you. You will need to provide
permission to allow this person to act on your
Keep records of your
medical bills and all correspondence with insurance
companies. If you speak with someone by
phone, write down the name of the representative
you talk to and take notes.
Read Your Mail
It can be easy to let mail
pile up if you're not able to pay bills or you're
too tired to deal with them. But if Medicaid requests further documentation and you miss
the deadline for responding, your case may be
closed and you may wind up owing more.
Go in Person
If your Medicaid caseworker
isn't responding to you, go in person or send
someone on your behalf. Some caseworkers are
better at responding by e-mail; ask if that's an
If you Don't Understand a Bill or Letter . . .
. . . from your insurance company, bring
it with you to your appointment. Talk with
Zywicki on Level B-1 of the Cancer Center or
ask to talk to your social worker. They can help
you figure out your next step.
Never lose your cool with caseworkers
or insurance representatives. "No matter
how frustrated and angry you get, be nice, be
patient and be understanding," said Dawnielle
Morano, a Cancer Center social worker.
"Remember, caseworkers are overwhelmed,
too. But they can be key members of your
health-care team if you work to develop
healthy relationships with them."
Set Up a No-Interest Payment Plan
If you can't pay your medical bills in full,
Zywicki can help you set up a payment plan.
If you are disputing a bill with an insurance
company, do the same thing. When the insurance
company pays, you will be refunded what
youve paidand in the meantime, you will
avoid having your bill forwarded to a collection
agency. "People always say, 'If I pay, I'll
never get my money back,'" Zywicki said.
"That's not true. My job is to help you to get it
back in a timely manner. I'm your connection."
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