A man, who works in construction, is turning 65 and wondering about his employer health insurance plan and medicare.

Leaving a Job During Cancer: What You Need to Know

After a cancer diagnosis, you may find it challenging to balance your health needs and work responsibilities. If you’re finding it difficult to work, know that you have options, whether it’s getting accommodations, taking time off, going out on disability, or to stop working entirely.

Whatever choice is best for you, it is important that you understand your rights, options, and resources to make this transition smoother. This blog describes important information for cancer patients and their caregivers to consider regarding leaving a job.

Disclosing Your Diagnosis:

Deciding when and how to disclose the news to your employer and colleagues is a deeply personal decision. Understanding your privacy protections can help guide these conversations and ensure your needs are met while maintaining confidentiality.

Refer to Triage Cancer’s Quick Guide to Disclosure, Privacy, & Medical Certification Forms to help you make educated disclosure decisions.

Considering Short- or Long-term Leaves:

Know your legal rights if you choose to take a short- or long-term leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, but job-protected and health insurance-protected leave and state laws may provide additional help.

You may be eligible for paid or unpaid leave through your employer. And, some employers offer short- or long-term disability insurance that will pay you a portion of your income while taking time off.

You may also be eligible for state or federal disability insurance benefits. For more information, visit our Disability Insurance Resources.

Comparing Your Health Insurance Options:

If you have health insurance through your employer, you need to undertand your next steps if you are leaving your job.

Be prepared to research your other health insurance options, including what a new plan will cost you, whether your health care providers are included in the plan’s network, and how much of your prescription drugs will be covered. Be aware that after you leave your job, you have a limited amount of time to switch to a new plan, so pay attention to deadlines.

Consider these potential options:

  • COBRA. COBRA is a federal law that allows eligible employees to keep their existing employer-sponsored health insurance plan after experiencing a “qualifying event,” like leaving your job. If you choose COBRA, you will be responsible for up to 110% of the premiums. There are also state COBRA laws that you may have access to.
  • State Health Insurance Marketplace. Marketplace plans are standardized, have limited out-of-pocket maximums, and may provide financial assistance based on your income level.
  • Medicare or Medicaid. Depending on your income level, you may be eligible for Medicaid in your state. You may also qualify for Medicare if you are at least 65 years old or have been receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits for two years.
  • Another group plan. You may want to check your eligibility to join a spouse’s plan, or a parent’s plan if you are under the age of 26.

Keep in mind that each option has its own enrollment requirements, costs, and policies. Triage Cancer’s Quick Guide to Options When Losing Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance provides more information. Triage Cancer also has more information on Health Insurance, including a worksheet to compare different health insurance plan options.

To learn more about how to make these decisions,  watch our animated video on Picking a Health Insurance Plan.

Reviewing Your Other Employee Benefits

You may be able to take other employee benefits with you after you leave. Consider vision, dental, supplemental, disability, or life insurance policies.

For example, if you have a life insurance policy through your employer, you may be able to convert it to an individual policy. If your employer paid the premiums for this policy, you will likely have to pay the premiums moving forward. However, in certain circumstances, your policy may be considered paid in full if you are leaving work due to disability.

Review your options regarding any retirement accounts. For example, you may want to consider rolling over employer-based retirement funds into your individual account. If you are unsure of the best course of action, meeting with a financial planner may be useful.

Confirming You Have What You Need Before Your Last Day:

Before your last day of work, make a list of the information you’ll need, such as:

  • How you will receive your last paycheck
  • Whether and how unused vacation time will be paid out
  • Who do you share your new contact information and address with, if it changes, to make sure you get your W-2, benefits information, etc.
  • If you are applying for COBRA, what paperwork you’ll need, how to make payments, and who to contact in the future in you have questions
  • How to convert your other benefits

There should be someone at your job to help you answer these questions, such as human resources (HR) staff. If you aren’t sure who to ask, start with the person who handles timesheets or other employment paperwork.

For more information, see Triage Cancer’s Quick Guide to Leaving Work and other Work and Cancer Resources.

If you have more questions about leaving work, you can contact Triage Cancer’s Legal & Financial Navigation Program.

About Triage Cancer

Triage Cancer is a national, nonprofit providing free education to people diagnosed with cancer, caregivers, and health care professionals on cancer-related legal and practical issues. Through eventsmaterials, and resources, Triage Cancer is dedicated to helping people move beyond diagnosis.

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