Content and information provided by Marriah Mabe, LCSW at Provision CARES Proton Therapy.
Many cancer patients say that one of the most difficult aspects of cancer treatment is loss of income during treatment. Extra costs for medical visits, copays, travel to appointments, medications, and other expenses add up quickly. However, there are laws meant to protect individuals undergoing medical treatment from losing their job. Additionally, if you have life insurance or other insurance policies through your employer, you may have access to financial resources you are not aware of. Provision CARES Proton Therapy team provides support and resources to help get you started in the process of exploring options that may be available to you as you are undergoing treatment.
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law that protects people who need to take time off from work for medical reasons. This can be for your own diagnosis or to help care for a family member. The FMLA covers individuals who need time off for 12 weeks or less per year. This can be continuous time off or it can be taken in smaller portions, but it is unpaid. There are guidelines for employers to provide this coverage, which vary slightly from state to state. However, the minimum requirements for an employer to provide FMLA coverage is that the employer must employ at least 50 individuals. All government employees have benefits under FMLA regardless of office size. In some cases, an employee may not qualify for FMLA coverage if you have not been employed with your current employer for at least six months. Additionally, some states have lower staffing requirements and some employers may offer protections similar to FMLA even if not required to do so. In any case, you will need to speak with your HR department to obtain the appropriate paperwork and get a full overview of your rights.
Short Term Disability
For time off longer than 12 weeks, you may need to utilize short-term disability benefits, if this option is available through your employer. Short-Term Disability usually covers a leave of up to six months. Unlike FMLA, which is typically unpaid leave, many short-term disability plans pay a percentage of your regular pay. This percentage will depend on your specific policy and you will need to speak with your HR department to begin this process. Keep in mind that you may have a waiting period between the time in which you apply for benefits and when you start receiving payment. You may choose to use FMLA and Short-Term Disability at the same time. FMLA’s purpose is to protect your job during your time off and Short-Term Disability is to supplement a portion of your income during that time off.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
In addition to needing time off during cancer treatment, some people may be concerned about discrimination in the workplace or difficulties with completing other work requirements. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination of workers based on a disability. The ADA outlines various protections under Federal Law for individuals who may need accommodations in the workplace. Cancer patients and survivors may use protections under this law if they have long term medical needs following their treatment and need assistance or accommodations in their workplace.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
If you have worked in the past but are no longer are able to do so due to your cancer diagnosis, you may be able to qualify for income through Social Security Disability Insurance. If you qualify for SSDI benefits, you may also qualify for other benefits through the federal government such as Medicare or Nutrition Assistance. To apply for SSDI or find out if you qualify, you can make an appointment at your local SSI office or begin the application process online.
Critical Illness Policies
You may have access to a critical illness policy through your employer as part of your benefits package. This is a policy that will pay out a lump sum after the diagnosis of various medical conditions. Most cancer diagnoses should be included in these types of policies. Some employers offer this coverage to all employees automatically, but other individuals may have to add this policy separately during open enrollment. You can also check your life insurance policy for this benefit as these plans may have coverage for the diagnosis of certain medical conditions.
Cancer and Careers
The Cancer and Careers website provides advocacy for cancer patients and survivors who may need assistance in working through treatment, taking time off during treatment, obtaining accommodations at work, or simply educating yourself about your rights and resources. They offer webinars, in-depth discussions on various topics, and free printed materials. A particularly useful resource is the Living and Working with Cancer Workbook.
Triage Cancer is an advocacy website that provides information to cancer patients, survivors, and their family members about a wide variety of topics. Their webinars and blog may be particularly helpful in answering questions about insurance, finances, employment, and clinical trials. They also keep up to date information regarding state laws that commonly affect cancer patients.
American Cancer Society: Americans with Disabilities Act: Information for People Facing Cancer
Job Accommodation Network: Information about job accommodations for employees with disabilities.
Cancer Legal Resource Center: An advocacy and information organization for individuals with disabilities, cancer, and other serious illnesses.
National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS): The NCCS is an advocacy group that provides information on advocating for yourself, talking with your medical team, and employment rights.
Triage Cancer Quick Guide to Disability Insurance and FMLA: Triage Cancer has published a guide to the basic qualification criteria for various types of disability insurance. This may help you decide which program you may qualify for.