How to Triage Cancer is a cancer rights podcast presented by Triage Cancer in partnership with ArmorUp For Life. In terms you can understand, each episode breaks down the legal and practical issues that impact people navigating a cancer diagnosis, from patients and caregivers to advocates and health care professionals.
Episode No. 7
In this episode, we talk about dealing with the fact that cancer is expensive. But looking for financial assistance can be overwhelming, especially if you don't even know where to start. We talk tips and tricks in Episode 7 of How to Triage Cancer.
Episode No. 6
In this episode, we talk about ways to avoid higher medical bills before care, understand balance billing and surprise billing, what to do when an insurance plan says no, tips for getting organized, and paying medical bills. . We cover it all in Episode 6 of How to Triage Cancer.
Episode No. 5
Short-term, long-term, federal, state, private – what is disability insurance anyway? Let us explain! Disability insurance can replace lost wages if you have to take time off work due to a serious medical condition like cancer, but it’s important to understand how it works, when to apply, how to apply, and what to do if your application is denied (hint: never take no for an answer!). We cover it all in Episode 5 of How to Triage Cancer.
Loriana Hernandez-Aldama: Welcome back to our continuing series “How to Triage Cancer.” In partnership with ArmorUp for LIFE, my name is Loriana Hernandez-Aldama. I am the founder of ArmorUp for LIFE and also a two-time cancer survivor. Our role with ArmorUp for LIFE is to help patients amplify the patient voice and help them out through great organizations like Triage Cancer. So I want to introduce you to the founders of Triage Cancer, Joanna Morales and Monica Bryant, both attorneys, both incredible resources for everything you need to know about triaging cancer. So today, we're going to be talking about a very important topic: disability insurance. So, Monica, I want to start with you. First, explain, what is disability insurance?
Monica Bryant: Most people, when they are taking time off work, whether that's for a short period of time or for an extended period of time, typically that time off is unpaid. Many of us can't go an extended period of time without receiving any sort of income. It's, in fact, why we work. So disability insurance is an insurance policy that someone can either buy or access through the government to help replace lost wages.
Hernandez-Aldama: When you talk about buying disability insurance, by the time they're diagnosed with cancer, is that too late?
Bryant: Potentially. So there aren't the same protections that we now have in health insurance with preexisting conditions in disability insurance. So it can be a barrier to purchasing disability insurance once somebody has a cancer diagnosis, but it doesn't mean it's impossible.
Hernandez-Aldama: So on that message, again, where I always say we have to be prepared. It's over my other shoulder. That's part of our messaging at ArmorUp for LIFE. If you're watching and we've said this in other episodes, even if you're not diagnosed with cancer, this is proof that it's never too late to get prepared for any sort of illness by knowing what your rights are, getting disability insurance, knowing you're protected in the event your world flips upside down. And on that note, I want to send it over to you Joanna to talk about more about disability insurance and give us examples of when you would need it.
Joanna Morales: So it kind of depends on the type of disability insurance that you have access to, but you might need disability insurance if you're just going to be out of work for a couple of weeks, or you might need disability insurance if you're going to be out of work for a couple of years. So depending on the medical condition that you have and how long you're going to need to be out of work, you might be looking at short-term disability insurance, which is typically for medical conditions that will last up to a year, where long-term disability insurance is typically for medical conditions that are going to last at least a year or longer.
Hernandez-Aldama: So when you're talking about the short-term disability, the long-term disability, is this you're referring to all through your employer? And if so, when do you shift gears and say, “I need to go outside my employer and go through something through the government”?
Morales: So there are different types of disability insurance. There are private disability insurance policies that you can buy directly from an insurance company, and that's where they can take into consideration your preexisting condition and potentially deny you. But there are also private disability insurance policies that you get through your employer, where your employer is providing that as part of an employee benefit. So in addition to maybe health insurance, or vision, or dental, they're also providing a short or a long-term disability policy or both. And in most cases, they're also going to take into consideration a potential preexisting condition, but they might just have exclusion periods where they won't cover you for a certain period of time, like a year. And then if you happen to live in one of the five states or Puerto Rico that actually cover state disability insurance, that's an option that's available, and all of those plans are short-term disability plans that last a year or less. So those states are California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Hawaii. We’re really only talking about a handful of states that offer this benefit. If you need to take an extended period of time off or you have a medical condition that is expected to last a year or longer, then you're looking at long-term disability. And if you don't have that through a private insurer, then you'd be looking at the federal government. It provides two long-term programs through the Social Security Administration. There is Social Security Disability Insurance, which is SSDI, and there's Supplemental Security Income, which is SSI.
Hernandez-Aldama: Okay, that's great information, and I wish I understood all of this when I was going through it myself. Monica, I want to send this to you. Again, based on some of the calls we get coming into ArmorUp for LIFE and a family that recently reached out to us, so at what point does someone who is trying to remain hopeful, who says, “No, I'm not leaving my career. I'm not leaving my job. I don't want to be pushed out of my job. I just need time to fight cancer.” At what point do you go from the short term to realizing it's long-term, and then how long does your employer have to let you hang on there to their long-term disability insurance before you actually have to go to federal?
Bryant: So there's not going to be a one answer to that question. It's going to be so personal. What I will say is when I'm on the phone with individuals who contact Triage Cancer for assistance, sometimes there is a feeling that they don't want to apply for one of those long-term disability programs through the government because they almost feel as if that's giving up, that they're sort of signing on to the fact that they're not going to get better. But the opposite could actually be true. In fact, there are return-to-work programs through the Social Security Administration. So what I really try to let people know is that there's no crystal ball. We don't actually know what's going to happen, but don't let the fear of the unknown stop you from potentially receiving the benefits that you need sooner rather than later.
Hernandez-Aldama: And Joanna, is it difficult to get approved, and do you need an attorney to get that disability insurance?
Morales: It can sometimes be hard to tap into your disability insurance benefits. Generally, it's easier if you have a private disability insurance policy through an insurance company or through your employer than it is to apply for the long-term disability benefits through the Social Security Administration. But we do get asked a lot, “Do I have to hire an attorney to apply?” And as attorneys, we generally say, “No, you don't have to hire an attorney just to apply,” and actually your health care team can be the most helpful in helping you gather the information you need for the application, but sometimes when someone is denied disability insurance benefits through the Social Security Administration, they get to a stage in the appeals process where it might actually be useful to have an attorney help you get through that process so that you can get the benefits that you're entitled to.
Hernandez-Aldama: All right, so Monica, some patients might ask can they work and collect disability benefits? Is this something that they could work through the disability?
Bryant: Maybe, it's really going to depend on the source of disability insurance and what working means. So there are some private disability insurance policies that will cover somebody if maybe they've gone from full-time to part-time, and their salary has been reduced because of that. The disability insurance company might make up a portion of that lost income. But even with the Social Security Administration, there is an amount that people are able to earn each month and still be able to collect benefits. So again, I always feel like my answers to you are maybe and it depends, but it really is true that a lot of this is going to be very specific to each person's situation.
Hernandez-Aldama: Like you said, it's okay to say maybe because it's a starting point, and every patient needs to know what the possibilities are, and again every case is different and every case is unique, but at least both of you are giving such incredible information to help patients get started to learn more about what their rights are. Joanna, I want to ask you, is there anything else I haven't asked that you would like to talk more about, maybe perhaps appeals? Is there anything else that patients can do if they're not getting what they think is due to them to help them get through their journey?
Morales: It is very important for people to understand when they apply for social security disability benefits, 65% of those applications are denied the first time around. So the system is almost set up to deny people, and we really don't want people to take no for an answer. We want people to go through the appeals process if they think that they're unable to work because of their medical condition. Because as you get through the appeals process, you're much more likely to actually get the benefits that you need.
Hernandez-Aldama: And what about disclosure? If you're a private company and you're watching this, what do companies need to know when their employees come to them? Monica, do you want to add anything to that?
Bryant: Well, I'm not so sure what companies need to know. What, again, we typically talk to people about is if they're receiving disability insurance from a private insurance company, to be very conscious of what they are putting out into the universe with respect to information. So for example, if somebody's on disability insurance and maybe they are accepted into one of the great camps or adventure nonprofits that we partner with to do one of those adventure activities, if they're posting that on social media and the disability insurance company sees that, they could potentially stop benefits under sort of the idea that, well, hey, if you can go on a climbing trip, then you can go to work. And the disability insurance company doesn't necessarily recognize that there are all sorts of protections and things put in place by these great organizations. And so we just don't ever want someone to lose benefits because they've posted something that could be misconstrued online.
Hernandez-Aldama: Absolutely, great information. Well, again, Joanna Morales, Monica Bryant with Triage Cancer. Thank you for helping all of us navigate cancer and learn more about How to Triage Cancer. We will continue more of our series at a later date, but thank you again for joining us.
Episode No. 4
The FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) are more than just letters! In fact, these federal laws can provide enormous work protection to individuals diagnosed with cancer – allowing you to take time off work and keep your job, and request reasonable accommodations. However, there is more to it than that! There may be state-level laws and even workplace policies that provide even more protection if you need to take time off from work. It’s all covered in Episode 4 of How to Triage Cancer!
Loriana Hernandez-Aldama: Welcome to our continuing series How to Triage Cancer in partnership with ArmorUp for Life. My name is Loriana Hernandez-Aldama. I'm a two-time cancer survivor and founder of ArmorUp for Life where we help amplify the patient voice. So today's topic is so very important to patients who are diagnosed with cancer. Joining me are the founders of Triage Cancer, Joanna Morales and Monica Bryant, also attorneys, thus Triage Cancer. Thank you both so much for joining us. And let's begin with resources for someone who takes time off work, how do they know about how to handle taking time off work when they're diagnosed with cancer? Joanna, I want to go ahead and start with you.
Joanna Morales: Well, when we're talking about taking time off work, whether it's for a short period of time or maybe even for a couple of months, it's important to understand what your rights are in the workplace. And the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or the FMLA, is one of the most useful laws that allows people to take time off work and get access to job protection while they're taking that time off work. People can take time off either for their own serious medical condition, but it's also available to caregivers who are taking time off work if they're caring for a spouse, a parent, or a child with a serious health condition.
Hernandez-Aldama: And I do want to ask about that, because we have so many families who contact ArmorUp for Life and they need help navigating cancer. And most recently I had a family contact me. The male who was diagnosed with leukemia had only been at his job for five months. His wife, who needed to take care of him, had only been at her job 11 months and needed FMLA which didn't kick in until a year. So when you're in these odd situations like that and you've never expected this to happen to you, what do you do?
Morales: Well, I think first it's important when you're understanding what your rights are is to understand the requirements that you have to meet in order to use those protections. And for the FMLA that does include that you work for a large enough employer with 50 or more employees if you work for a private employer or a state, local, or federal government. But also, you have to work there a year and you'd have to have worked there 1,250 hours in the last year that you worked for the employer. So if you don't meet one of those requirements, then you have to look to see what else is available. And that's why we always say it's important to not just understand what's available to you at federal level, but also look to the state laws that might provide some protection or even better protection than the federal law, and then understanding all of the laws that might pertain to your situation. And in the situation you mentioned there are potentially some other things that might help that person take time off of work.
Hernandez-Aldama: And I want to send it to Monica for that. What are some other options? I think about this family, which it just broke my heart to hear their situation, but they're not the only ones. There's so many families who may work at a place that doesn't even have FMLA or they don't have those options available. What do they do? And where do they turn?
Monica Bryant: It is definitely not an uncommon thing. We hear stories like that on a daily basis. I would just say that it's also important to remember that the law is just the bare minimum of what employers are required to provide. And many employers are actually much more generous than that bare minimum. So often it's helpful to start with what's available at your specific employer. So checking to see if the employer has a policy around sick time, or vacation time, or other types of PTO. And, you know, some places it's easier than others to find that information but it is key to make sure people understand that piece first.
Hernandez-Aldama: So, both of you are saying, “Hey, first, if you are employed contact your human resource department and let the department know, him or her, ‘Hey, I have a medical situation and I need to know what my rights are.'”
Bryant: Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, not at every employer has a full-fledged HR department. In some employers it's a person. In some employers there isn't actually anyone that is specifically defined in that role. So it really is going to be very situationally specific but it is helpful, I think, for people to look for potentially a policy and procedures manual, or some sort of employee document, if it exists. If someone is still struggling, certainly talking to whomever at the job handles employee benefits, like who do you turn your time sheet into, for example, could be a good starting point if it really isn't clear.
Hernandez-Aldama: And something that, again, breaks my heart. I was very transparent through both cancers that I had, leukemia and breast cancer, because I was a public figure and I shared my story, but so many people have no choice but to hide behind their cancer and their illness because for reasons like this they may not be able to come out publicly and say, “I need help.” They can't do it because of their employer. In this situation the family that reached out to ArmorUp for Life they just said they requested medical leave. They didn't even want to mention the word cancer because they were scared that they would write them off, they might have their position dissolved and, you know, just the wheel of fear starts to go into effect. So, Joanna, do you want to step in of some other ways to handle that and also finding ways to replace your lost income?
Morales: I think the first piece of that is the issue around disclosure and how do you decide who to share information with at work? How do you share that? How much do you share? And that's always going to be an incredibly personal decision in terms of when you decide to talk about your medical condition at work. But if you do want to access some of the legal protections, like taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, you do have to share enough information with the employer that shows why you actually qualify to take that time off. And so when we're talking about a cancer diagnosis most of the time the reason you need to take time off is not because of the diagnosis itself, it's usually because you're going through treatment or you have a side effect from treatment. And so you can talk about the need to be having treatment without talking about the original medical condition. Or you could talk about the side effects that you're experiencing without ever tying them back to an original cancer diagnosis. So if you have fatigue, or neuropathy, or anxiety, or any of the potential side effects that might come along with treatment, you could talk about those things because they're medical conditions on their own without ever saying they result from a cancer diagnosis. So for someone who's concerned about sharing a cancer diagnosis, specifically at work, that provides some flexibility in how you fill out the certification form to get access to that FMLA leave.
Hernandez-Aldama: So, Monica, are there other laws that will help you take time off?
Bryant: I'm so glad that you asked. So, many people are familiar with the FMLA, the Family Medical Leave Act, for an option to take time off. There's actually another federal law called the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA. And many people are familiar with the ADA because of things like ramps into buildings or accessible parking spots, but the ADA did some really important things in the employment context too. And one of the things it does is it provides individuals with a disability access to a tool called a reasonable accommodation. And a reasonable accommodation can really be anything that is reasonable for that person's situation. So for some people it might be about, you know, special furniture, but for some people it could be about shifting schedules, or reducing hours, or even taking some extended time off as well.
Hernandez-Aldama: That's a good point. Joanna, do you want to add in on that. That seems to be what I was discussing with this family about maybe scaling back the work schedule, seeing if your office can be a little flexible. But, Joanna, maybe you can add on? When people think “disability” they think disability through the government versus through their work. Can you get both? Can you just get one? How does this all play out?
Morales: That's a great question. I think there's a lot of confusion around the term disability and what that actually means. And so every law and program that we talk about has a different definition of disability and that can include someone who has a cancer diagnosis. So when Monica was talking about the ADA, the ADA can actually protect someone from discrimination in the workplace if they have a cancer diagnosis and give them access to reasonable accommodations. And reasonable accommodations, we think, are a really underutilized tool to not just stay at work or return to work but also to be able to take time off. So for someone who doesn't qualify for the FMLA, because they haven't worked there long enough, or they don't have enough hours, or it's a smaller employer, they might actually really look to the ADA for the ability to take time off work. That type of disability is different than when we talk about disability insurance. And disability insurance is money that pays us what we would have been making, or a portion of what we would have been making, but because we need to take time off work due to a medical condition. And so when we're taking that time off disability insurance is paying us and it's replacing those lost wages.
Hernandez-Aldama: But it does not come with the job? So, is there job protection? Monica, do you want to add to that?
Bryant: So disability insurance is about money, whereas the FMLA, or the state leave laws, or potentially the ADA, or the state fair employment laws is the piece that's going to help provide job protection. So it's really valuable to use those two things together.
Hernandez-Aldama: Okay. This is such great information. And while you're talking, if you see the wheels spinning in my head, it takes me back to the day I was diagnosed with AML leukemia. And while I had a great employer, either I was not of sound mind because I'm hearing I had 25% chance of survival, I'm hearing all these numbers, separated from my son, and I don't feel that they prepared me to tell me what my rights were. So even though I had a great HR department, I felt like I needed to navigate that on my own. So if somebody is watching and they feel like, “I'm not getting the answers I need from whoever is handling my time sheet, or my HR,” where do they start? Where do they go? Triage Cancer, of course, to your website, but what else, what other steps do they take to start navigating this on their own or with a caregiver?
Bryant: So I think a good first step, as you mentioned, is starting with an employee manual or any type of policies and procedures that their employer have to talk about these types of abilities to take time off or access to disability insurance at work. But if they don't have access to that, then talking to HR or any of the people at their workplace who can provide additional details about their rights and benefits. But we do have a lot of information at TriageCancer.org on how to navigate your employment rights and/or access disability insurance. You can also call your disability insurance company to learn more about what benefits you have access to specifically through the policy that you have.
Hernandez-Aldama: And I want to add that for anybody watching, if you are watching because you're a caregiver or a friend of someone affected by cancer, it is never too late, and I know both of you will agree with me, to start learning what your rights are long before you're ever diagnosed with any sort of illness. Because trying to navigate disability, FMLA, and all of that in a time of crisis is not fun. And again, I can't remember everything they told me at the time because I was in crisis. So it's a good thing for everyone to really go through your website, get to know what their rights are, in case anything like this ever happens to them.
Morales: We do say that a lot, in that almost everything that we talk about at Triage Cancer we talk about through the lens of a cancer diagnosis, but it's just practical information that everybody should understand about their employment rights, or their health insurance options, or how to access other types of insurance. So we want everybody to be better prepared with this information.
Hernandez-Aldama: It's all about preparation. As you see, I have prepare, present, prevail. I say we have to all prepare ourselves for illness so we can present well to our medical team, which will position ourselves to prevail. And the tools that both of you have and what you provide at Triage Cancer is part of that preparation so we can be positioned to prevail. So I think it's great insight. It's always wonderful to talk to both of you. Joanna Morales and Monica Bryant with Triage Cancer thank you so much. And we're looking forward to our next episode. So stick around for the next episode where we will talk more about disability insurance.
Episode No. 3
In this episode, we dive into COBRA, one of the primary options for people who have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance. But COBRA isn’t the only option! You may be eligible for Medicaid, Medicare, or a private insurance plan with financial assistance through the Marketplace (think insurance shopping mall). We’ll break it all down in this episode of How to Triage Cancer.
Loriana Hernandez-Aldama: Welcome back to our series, “How to Triage Cancer”. I'm Loriana Hernandez Aldama, founder of ArmorUp for Life. Our mission is to amplify the patient voice, to help people, more patients become possible by prepare, present, prevail. The three P's to armor up for life. I am joined in partnership with Joanna Morales and Monica Bryant. The rockstar attorneys and founders of Triage Cancer, with some great information. So, we want to continue our series. We're talking about options when losing your insurance. This year, during the pandemic, has been so tough on so many people. Millions have lost their jobs. They've lost insurance. So, you might be asking these questions like, where do I go from here? How do I get COBRA? I know I had to go through COBRA, and it was not pleasant this year. So, it's a very timely topic for so many people. Thank you so much, both of you for joining us. Monica, I want to start with you. How do you get COBRA? How do you navigate it?
Monica Bryant: It's really scary if you have been used to getting your insurance through an employer, and now you're faced with a situation where that's not an option anymore, you might be trying to figure out, well, what do I do now? COBRA is a federal law that allows eligible employees to keep the exact same health insurance policy when they would normally lose it. So, it's the exact same policy that you had when you working. Now, what's really, really useful about that is everything keeps going. So, everything you've paid towards your deductible, or your out-of-pocket maximum, keeps going. It's the same network of providers, the same prescription drug coverage. So, nothing changes, except what you pay monthly to have that policy, because, with COBRA, the employee is now responsible for 100% of the premiums, and so that can feel really daunting. I know Joanna often says most of us don't appreciate what our employer pays for our insurance until we're writing that check ourselves. Now, the other piece of this is that, well COBRA is a federal law, and does apply to people who work for employers with 20 or more employees. For someone who works for a smaller employer, they might have really similar rights, but it's actually going to be under a state law, instead. And, we have all of that information, because the laws vary state to state, on TriageCancer.org under our charts of state laws. So, you can check that out and see what's available in your state.
Hernandez-Aldama: Well, I didn't fully understand the whole complexity of COBRA, until I went through it this year, because it is easy to say, well… And, it is great information, that we have COBRA, it is a continuation of care, but… And, that's great, however having to know that you're going to have a new payer ID, trying to get coverage. I'm still getting bills, and we had no idea… We appreciated my husband's employer, but we didn't realize that his employer was paying 77% of his insurance cost. And, because we have the highest given… I've had leukemia and breast cancer, we said, oh, my gosh. So, for the month of February, for 28 days, we're going to pay $3,000. And, we just about choked on it. We couldn't believe it. And, then we said, “well, now what do we do?” Is COBRA our only option? And, what do we do from here? And, so that leads to my next question. Either one of you can jump in. We ended up paying it because we were too stressed. It was only a month. It was 28 days and I had surgery coming up, but what else can you do if you can't just charge that?
Monica Bryant: Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there are some other options that people can now look to for health insurance coverage, if they're losing their coverage through work. Most people are familiar with COBRA, because that's what maybe their HR department sent them paperwork on. But if COBRA isn't a good option, either because your providers aren't covered, or your drugs aren't covered, or it's just too expensive, you could also now look at what your options are in the state health insurance marketplaces, which are available in every state. And, people can find all of the private insurance plans that are available to them as an individual, or a family, on the marketplace. And, not only do you have access to looking for that information on the marketplace, you potentially are going to qualify for financial assistance to help you buy your plan in the marketplace. So, that financial assistance is based on your income level, and it can lower what you pay for monthly premiums, as well as what you're paying for your out-of-pocket costs for those marketplace plans.
Hernandez-Aldama: And, so I was trying to explain to someone how I perceived the marketplace, so please correct me if I'm wrong, but I've never had to go to a marketplace. I've been fortunate enough to find my insurance through my employer, but I said, when you call and you’re looking for car insurance, and you're calling this company and that company, you have like a broker who says, well, I can get you this company for this price, this for this price, and you're like, you know what, I want this car insurance company. Is it very similar to that?
Morales: Yeah, so we often refer to the marketplace as an insurance shopping mall. So, it's one place that you can go to look for all of the private insurance plans that are being sold in your state. And, there's a lot of confusion about the marketplace. So, people think they're buying a government-sponsored health plan, and they're not. They're buying a plan from a private insurance company. It's just that the government created the shopping mall for those companies to come and sell their plans, and then added some benefits like making sure that all of those plans are providing a base level of benefits. So, you're not getting inadequate health insurance coverage. And, then it also required those plans to be standardized. So, that you can compare apples to apples, and oranges to oranges across all of those companies as a consumer. And, then of course the financial assistance, it added the financial assistance for people based on their income level.
Hernandez-Aldama: And, you can do that, like I could have done had I had time, and didn't have surgery, and I was rushing, but you can do that whether you need COBRA for a month, or three months, four months, or a year, but my question… My follow-up question is to you about the financial part, if you can't pay that full amount, if you can't find something affordable in the market, what do you do?
Morales: You might actually qualify for Medicaid in your state, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid was expanded for anyone with a household income up to 138% of the federal poverty level, which is a little more than $17,000 this year for an individual. So, if you're making under that amount, if your state expanded Medicaid, you can actually get access to Medicaid, as well. And, we have a great deal of resources on our website about whether or not you qualify for the marketplace or Medicaid.
Hernandez-Aldama: Okay, so there is help out there. You just have to figure out how to navigate it. Monica, is there anything else you want to jump in on, that I may have overlooked, because I could talk about this financial toxicity, and the stress of COBRA. Months later, I'm still trying to get through bills, and tell a particular hospital, that shall remain nameless, that I don't owe them $10,000, that they need to rerun my new group number, and that was only for a month, and then in a period of three months, I had three different insurance group numbers. And, so I have bill collectors calling, and it's very stressful. So, if there's any advice you want to give, before we close out this episode, let me know. Jump in.
Bryant: A lot of people don't have those types of issues with COBRA, so I don't necessarily want to scare people off from considering COBRA as an option. One of the things that we stress really strongly at Triage Cancer, is that if somebody's facing a situation where they're going to lose their employer-sponsored insurance, or they're trying to figure out what their options are, they have to do the math. And, we talked about doing the math in our last episode together, because we think of it as, you could potentially have four different lanes to drive in. So, you could be able to keep your exact same policy through COBRA or state COBRA. You could potentially pick up a totally new policy through the state health insurance marketplaces, maybe, based on your situation, there's another group plan you can join. So, if you're under the age of 26, potentially you could go on your parents' plan, or if you're married, maybe your spouse has a plan at work. And, then as Joanna mentioned, based on your income, you might be eligible for Medicaid. Certainly, also based on circumstances, or your age, you might also be eligible for Medicare, and so making sure that you don't, sort of, jump to a decision, because you think that's the only option, but to look at all the possible lanes you could drive in, and then do the math to figure out which is the best lane for you. Because once you make that choice, you don't get to change lanes, until the next open enrollment period. So, it really can be a big financial impact if you choose the wrong lane to drive in.
Hernandez-Aldama: I love that analogy. I love analogies. Great one. To pick that lane and you'll be staying in it, so choose it wisely. Well, Joanna and Monica, thank you so much. It's been great to talk to both of you. We will continue to have more episodes on more topics that Triage Cancer covers, and you could find more information about what we discussed in our prior episodes at TriageCancer.org and CancerFinances.org.
Episode No. 2
Picking the right health insurance plan could save you thousands! In this episode, we introduce you to key terms that are critical when comparing insurance options. We’ll also teach you how to figure out how much your health insurance and medical care will actually cost. And, you’ll learn how and when to pick a plan that meets your specific needs. How to Pick a Health Insurance Plan is the one class you wish you could’ve taken in high school!
Loriana Hernandez-Aldama: Welcome back to our series, “How To Triage Cancer.” I'm Loriana Hernandez-Aldama, the proud founder of ArmorUp for LIFE. We are a nonprofit organization that amplifies the patient voice to make more patients possible. And joining me, we are doing this whole series in partnership with Triage Cancer, and the two rockstar attorneys that I adore, they're doing amazing work with Triage Cancer. They are the founders. We have Monica Bryant and Joanna Morales joining us again. Last time we talked to you about how having adequate health insurance coverage is the most effective way to minimize the financial burden of a cancer diagnosis. But health insurance is confusing. So, today we're going to talk about how one figures this out because the financial toxicity, when you go through cancer is so much, and it can take a toll on your financial wellbeing, but also your mental wellbeing, your physical wellbeing. And so, they are here to help. So, Monica, I want to start with you. How does the average person figure this out and navigate it?
Monica Bryant: It is so confusing. It is like learning a new language, but nobody but us is actually teaching what this language is. We often joke that there should be a class in high school, on health insurance and finances. Stuff we all need to know, but no one ever teaches us. And then now you're faced with a cancer diagnosis, and having to learn this new language. And so, there are some key terms that are really useful for everybody to understand. And we certainly have lots of resources at triagecancer.org to help people understand these different terms. But for today, I really just wanted to highlight two of them. So, the first is your monthly premium, and this is what you're going to pay every single month, just to have health insurance. And you pay that amount, whether you go to the doctor or not. It's like having car insurance all year, but never getting into an accident or filing a claim.
Hernandez-Aldama: And then we have this magical phrase that I heard so many times during leukemia and breast cancer battles, out-of-pocket maximum. So, let's talk about that because cancer patients, we know, we cringe when we hear that.
Bryant: Generally speaking, the out-of-pocket maximum is the most that somebody's going to have to pay for their healthcare in the year. And the way that you get to that is by adding up everything you pay out of pocket for your co-payments, and your co-insurance, and your deductible. So, it's everything except those monthly premiums. Now, it is so valuable to understand what your out-of-pocket maximum is, and how your policy defines out-of-pocket maximum because it then allows us to plan for a worst-case scenario.
Hernandez-Aldama: Joanna, I want to send it to you, how do you actually pick a plan?
Joanna Morales: Well, you need to know what the monthly premium is going to be for a particular plan option. And you also need to know what the out-of-pocket maximum is for that particular plan. And the way that you figure out what a plan is actually going to cost you by the end of the year, is that you take the monthly premium and you multiply it by 12, for 12 months, because that's how much it's going to cost you to have the plan for the year. And then you add that to the out-of-pocket maximum because that's the most that you're going to pay out of pocket for your medical cost during the year. And that final number is what your actual cost for your medical care and your health insurance is going to be for the year. Now the problem is that most people don't understand out-of-pocket maximums. So, when they're shopping for health insurance coverage, they're often just focusing on that monthly premium, but oftentimes plans that have higher monthly premiums actually have lower out-of-pocket maximums. And so sometimes those plans that appear to be more expensive based on their monthly premium can end up saving you thousands of dollars by the end of the year because of that lower out-of-pocket maximum.
Hernandez-Aldama: So, you're saying to somebody that, and I just explained this to someone going through cancer, you might have to pay more upfront, but long-term, and I'll just pick a random number, but let's say it's going to be a thousand dollars a month upfront, but long-term, you may pay less in the out-of-pocket maximum. If you choose to pay less, then it could keep adding and adding and adding. And long-term over that course of the year could be a lot more of a financial burden for yourself.
Morales: Absolutely. That's exactly the problem. And so, we want people to understand how to actually do this math because the math matters in any type of plan that they're looking at. So, you could be using this math problem to actually figure out your options if you're shopping in the marketplace, you can use this example. If you're comparing different options that your employer gives you, you can also compare what your employer gives you to what's available to you in the marketplace. Or if you have Medicare, you can compare your Medicare plan options using the same type of math problem.
Hernandez-Aldama: I also say to people, when you're choosing your plan, nobody ever thinks that they're going to get cancer. I walked around thinking I was invincible. And so, when you're choosing that, you're like, oh, I don't, I'm in great health, I eat clean, nothing's going to happen to me. So, you're not thinking about crunching those numbers, but the reality is, as I say, it's not always a matter of if something's going to happen. It's a matter of when. And we're really preparing ourselves so we could present well, physically, financially, mentally when we, when our world turns upside down with something. So, I think it's important to take these great facts that both of you are providing and think about it, even if you're not affected by cancer and you're watching and think to really think about that, right? When you're looking at, how would this impact you if you had cancer?
Morales: Exactly. I think part of the thing that we forget about is insurance is for something that might happen, we're preparing ourselves in case something was to happen. So oftentimes people who are healthy think, oh, I'm just going to buy the lowest cost insurance because I'm never going to reach my out-of-pocket maximum because I don't get any medical care. But we don't usually get advanced warning before a cancer diagnosis. And so, the idea of having insurance is in case something were to happen. You have that coverage. And that's really where we see so much financial toxicity is the people have plans that are not adequate for their medical care. And so, they end up having to pay so much more money out of pocket for those high out-of-pocket maximums.
Hernandez-Aldama: Well, being a journalist and literally living at Johns Hopkins while battling leukemia, I filed reports from my bedside and I've talked to so many patients and they would always say, well, I always said to myself, well, I never get sick. It was such a common theme and people didn't plan ahead. So, I encourage people who are watching to go check out all the information on TriageCancer.org, because you don't know when something may happen to you, small or large, and it is best to be prepared. It is my whole mantra for ArmorUP for Life. There are other things, Monica, if you want to jump into considering about the deductibles, the networks, the formularies.
Bryant: Well, Joanna walked you through how you figure out what the total annual cost is going to be by understanding your annual amount for premiums and your out-of-pocket maximum. But you also have to make sure that you've checked that the policy you've chosen covers the providers that you want to see. So, the doctors, and the hospitals, and the labs. And that's important for two reasons. The first is that many policies won't cover providers that are out of network at all. And if they do cover them, they're going to cover them at a lower rate. It's also important because many policies, when they're figuring out an out-of-pocket maximum, they're only going to count payments towards in-network providers. So, this is so key. And I think for those of us that work in this space every single day, sometimes it sounds like everyone would know this information, but I think honestly the average consumer of health insurance doesn't stop to think, “I need to check that my existing providers are in this plan's network.”
Hernandez-Aldama: That is great advice. So, you're saying if, so, if you could make the time to call some of those doctors that you want to continue care with and say, “Hey, this is what insurance plan I'm going to have going forward, do you, are you on this list?” So, you're going to have to do some research, or somebody will, if you can't do it because you're busy fighting cancer.
Bryant: Yeah. I mean, it definitely takes some leg work. There are some tools on the online marketplace that can be useful, but ultimately, we think it is always good to check with the provider and to use the exact plan name when they are calling their provider. But, you know, I sometimes talk to people and they say basically what you're saying, right? Like that it's an added thing to do when you're in the middle of fighting cancer and I agree, it's a lot. It's a lot even if you're not in the middle of finding cancer, but I often find people will spend more time researching their next washer and dryer than they do their health insurance policy. And when we think about how many people in America utilize health insurance, that's a little bit scary. But the good news is that picking a health insurance policy, you don't just get one shot at this. We actually have the opportunity to change our plans every single year. And so the time of year that you're allowed to do that is going to depend on whether you have an employer policy or a marketplace plan or Medicare, but every single year, we get to make choices. And well, that could be seen as an additional chore we have to do every single year. I think it's also an opportunity, especially for those people who maybe didn't pick the best plan for them because they didn't think they were going to need it and now do.
Hernandez-Aldama: Absolutely. And it is worth the time and the effort, especially if you can do it while you're healthy, before anything happens. And while you're of sound mind and you have the time and the energy do it then, so you are well-informed when it happens. So, if someone picks a plan with the lowest out-of-pocket cost that covers their providers and their prescription drugs, then they're set right? And they can stop worrying is what most people would like to say, “Okay, I can just kick back and hopefully nothing happens.”
Bryant: I mean, assuming that they watched this and looked at all of our other materials and knew exactly how to pick the most appropriate plan for them, then sure. But it's still worth the time to look every single year and make sure that the plan they're choosing for the next year still meets their needs. And this can go both ways. So, it could be that somebody now has a cancer diagnosis. And maybe they want to pick a different plan that covers different providers or different prescription drugs because now they're taking drugs for their cancer, or it could be maybe that somebody's out of active treatment for cancer and maybe they need different things now. That’s what I was talking about in terms of the flexibility every single year that we can now look to the year ahead and make different choices.
Hernandez-Aldama: I'll jump in with a few scenarios. If I did not lose my job during the pandemic, can I just switch insurance right now? Because I want to, because I need to save money. Times are tough.
Morales: If you have an employer plan, there are some different rules about how you can get access to the marketplace and qualify for that financial assistance. But we're never required to take the health insurance coverage that our employers offer us. So, you can choose not to accept that coverage either because it's more expensive or maybe it doesn't cover your providers and then go to the marketplace and see if there's a plan that's available to you that does cover your providers, or is less expensive. So you're always able to do that. The question is just whether or not you actually qualify for the financial assistance. And we definitely have some information about how you figure that out on our website.
Hernandez-Aldama: Well so, does this apply to COBRA and we might be jumping ahead for the next episode, if you, if you're, if you or your spouse is between jobs and you're on COBRA, does that apply where you can say, hey, I need to go back and revisit the marketplace and try to get something cheaper or you can't pay that whole thing.
Morales: Normally, if you accepted COBRA and you decided you couldn't pay for it, you'd actually have to wait until the next open enrollment period to pick up a marketplace plan. And we're definitely going to talk about COBRA and other options for losing health insurance coverage, through an employer in our next episode, and the financial assistance that's available to help pay for COBRA.
Hernandez-Aldama: And that was my next line. So, thank you, Joanna, for helping me out. Options when losing your health insurance is part of our next episode. So, in the meantime, if you want to check out more information about these topics we're discussing and what we're going to discuss, go to Triage Cancer, it's triagecancer.org, and cancerfinances.org.
Episode No. 1
In our inaugural episode, hear real-life examples of how knowing your rights can help you navigate a cancer diagnosis, including health insurance, employment, and finances. We also break down financial toxicity, how it happens, and how to avoid it. And we introduce you to Triage Cancer and its hundreds of free resources to educate and prepare patients, caregivers, advocates, and health care professionals.
Loriana Hernandez-Aldama: Welcome to our podcast series, “How To Triage Cancer,” in partnership with “ArmorUp for Life.” My name is Loriana Hernandez-Aldama. I'm a former news anchor, medical reporter, two-time survivor, speaker, author, and the proud founder of “ArmorUp for Life.” We are a nonprofit organization. We help cancer patients amplify their voice by preparing, presenting, prevailing, the three P's to really being possible. And so it's really my honor to be in partnership with Triage Cancer, to shine the light on the great work that they are doing, and the two amazing attorneys behind this organization. You might say to yourself, what is legal about cancer? Let me tell you firsthand, and if you're a cancer survivor, if you've been through it, you understand. After a year-long stay in the hospital battling leukemia, a bone marrow transplant, and five years later, breast cancer, there is a lot that is legal about cancer. So, let me introduce to you, the two rock stars, I think they're rock stars and you will too, Joanna Morales and Monica Bryant, to talk about this very topic, and how that relates to some of the financial issues, and burdens that might arise after the diagnosis. So first, let me tell you about Joanna Morales. She is a cancer rights attorney, and also Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Triage Cancer. Joanna has spent more than 26 years working on behalf of individuals fighting cancer. Monica Bryant is also a cancer rights attorney, and helped co-found Triage Cancer too. So together, they educate, and help people really understand how to cope with cancer, help the caregivers and health care professionals about ways to introduce and reduce the financial burden of cancer. So the goal of this podcast is really to educate you, and share very practical information, and help everyone navigate a cancer diagnosis, which is so important. And in this first episode, we have three big goals, and we want to take a few minutes to talk to you about who is Triage Cancer, what is legal about cancer, and how can we minimize the financial burden of a cancer diagnosis, the financial toxicity. So, Monica and Joanna welcome, both of you. I'm so excited to talk to you, you know I adore you, and am so in awe of the work that you're doing. So, let's start with who is Triage Cancer.
Monica Bryant: I am, as you mentioned, a cancer rights attorney, and together in 2012, Joanna and I co-founded Triage Cancer, which is a national nonprofit that provides education on the practical and legal issues that arise after a diagnosis, and we do that through events, materials, and resources.
Hernandez-Aldama: And Joanna?
Joanna Morales: Well, Monica and I, both came to this work from very different places. I went to law school thinking that I was going to work in policy and legislative advocacy, and while I was in law school, I was also working at a cancer center for a Psychosocial Care Program, and I also took a class in law school on Cancer Rights Law, and it was the only class at the time on that topic across the country. And so, I learned some really interesting things in school that was coming up on a daily basis in my work. One of the things I was responsible for was to actually fit patients for mastectomy bras and prostheses in the cancer center's boutique, and in doing that process, I also billed insurance companies for those items, and often insurance companies would deny coverage for those prostheses and mastectomy bras, and I would get them on the phone, and I would say, “Well, this is supposed to be covered by insurance, why is it being denied?” And they would say, “That's not a covered benefit,” and I would say, “Well, what about WHCRA,” which stands for, the Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act, which was the law passed in 1998, that requires private insurance companies to cover those mastectomy bras and prosthesis, and so all I would have to do is say, “Well, what about WHCRA?” And then they would say, “Oh, okay, we're going to cover it,” and so all we had to do was show minimal knowledge of the rights of the patient I was calling on behalf of, and they would back down, and actually pay for something they're responsible for paying for, and it really demonstrated to me that if you don't know what your rights are, then so many systems that we have to navigate on a daily basis are in a better position to walk all over us, and that really drove me into this work. I want people to understand what their rights are, and what their options are so that they don't get walked all over, and they get access to the care and support that they need.
Hernandez-Aldama: And absolutely, and I really raised that point. Having had to get new bras after a double mastectomy, and tried to fight with insurance companies saying, “Well, I need a bra and I need a special bra,” and so I understand that, and I also always say, “Listen, I'm well-educated, and I don't know these laws.” And you make me feel better saying, it doesn't matter how well educated you are, you're not expected to know the laws to fight cancer.
Morales: What do you know about that random law? And even though that law was passed in 1998, so, how many decades are we past that law? Monica and I still talk to patients today where their insurance companies are denying coverage for reconstruction, and mastectomy bras, and prostheses, even though they're supposed to be paid for.
Hernandez-Aldama: When I had to leave my career anchoring, when I had leukemia for a year, it took me an entire year to get a wig approved, by then I had hair back, and I couldn't understand, I said, “I've lost my DNA, lost my identity, why would you do this to me?” It was traumatizing, and I would sit in bed, and I'm getting chemo treatment, fighting with insurance, and I wish I'd met you both sooner. And I kept saying, “How is this possible?” It's really sad that cancer patients, it adds to the burden, to the stress, and everything else that we're already going through, and so I really appreciate you giving that insight. I was looking up some numbers that just in 2021, 1.9 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States, and as far as survivors, we have nearly 17 million cancer survivors. By 2030, that number is expected to jump to 22.2 million. So, thankfully, we're saving more people, and those we're saving, we have to move on with life, but we need to know our rights, and we can't go down a downward spiral because we can't afford to get through our cancer treatment.
Morales: Absolutely, and wigs are actually a great example of where there isn't a law that requires insurance companies to cover wigs, and so, that's an example of where there's a gap in the law, even though there's a serious need by patients, and it's also is an example of a great advocacy opportunity.
Hernandez-Aldama: Well, we'll have to talk more about that then after our podcast. Okay, well, Monica, let's talk about what else is legal about cancer? Can you tell us what you mean about the legal issues?
Bryant: Well, we get asked a lot, “What's a cancer rights attorney? What could possibly be legal about cancer?” And my answer is, “Almost everything.” From what drugs are approved to treat cancer, to what insurance companies are required to pay for, to what are your rights to take time off from work, or to work through treatment, or to return to work after treatment. If you do need to take extended time off, how do you replace that lost income? And that's where disability insurance comes into play, and there are laws around that. Certainly, managing medical bills, and finances, and estate planning, all of these things that people are asked to grapple with in addition to their cancer diagnosis are actually rooted in the law.
Hernandez-Aldama: Well, and there are many people like myself, who had to leave our careers, but maybe we weren't educated well enough from our own Human Resource Department to say, “Hey, you can continue your life insurance policy because you're still within that window.” I didn't know that. Now I can't get life insurance, nobody wants to insure me. I didn't know the rights. So, tell me more about some of what your rights are, if you have to leave your job. I know we'll get to the third thing, but you're giving me so much great information. If you have to leave your job because of a cancer diagnosis, what are your rights?
Bryant: Well, I get to give my favorite answer, which is, ‘it depends,' because there's no one size fits all to many of the questions that we get asked. And Joanna and I say, we always break the rule of answering a question with more questions because, in order to effectively explain what somebody's rights are, we need to know things, like what type of employer do you work for, how big are they, what state do you work in, do you work under an employment contract, or as a member of a union? Because all of those details are going to define what rights you have. Again, either to work through treatment, or to return to work, or if you have to leave.
Hernandez-Aldama: Okay, so, we'll move on to the third point that we talked about, and I mentioned at the beginning, and then we'll chit chat because I could talk to both of you for hours. What is financial toxicity, and how do legal issues relate to it? Explain the concept of financial toxicity, and how it relates to the problem. Joanna, do you want to start with that?
Morales: Sure, so when we're talking about financial toxicity, this is a term that was actually coined by some researchers from Duke in 2013, and it really focuses on the financial burden of a cancer diagnosis, and how that financial burden can also have an impact on a patient's health. Whether it be physical health, or emotional health, or psychological health, we know that the financial burden has real practical impacts for patients beyond just the cost, and we want to make sure that patients not only get help addressing those costs, but avoid some of those other factors that can impact their health and their quality of life. But part of the challenge around financial toxicity is that it isn't just one thing, it's not an easy problem to solve, because there are actually a lot of contributors to financial toxicity, and it's some of the things that Monica mentioned. So, having adequate health insurance coverage is what we think is the biggest contributor to avoiding financial toxicity, and then it's other things, like if you do have to take time off work or leave your job, that loss of income is going to have a huge impact on your finances.
Hernandez-Aldama: Well, and I'll add to this, and Monica, I'll let you jump in, and I've been very transparent about it, because I feel like I have an obligation to speak up for those who aren't used to being on camera and talking about their problems. But I went from living the life as a news anchor to fighting for my life, and then my husband nearly losing his job. We found him another job, we were losing our house. He had to move. It was a big mess, but I went from living the life, to fighting for my life, to wanting to take my own life. And I thought, “How am I suicidal after fighting for so long?” But the bills were this high, and it was a full-time job for maybe two years. Because when you spend a year in the hospital, the bills just mount, and it was all day, every day I was like, do I make memories with my son in case I die? Do I spend all this time on the phone in case I live, because I have bills? And I just wanted to give up, and it started to take a toll on me, and I thought, “Well, how do other people do this?” I have a husband who finally found a job, but it is, that can take a toll on your psychological well-being, where you just don't want to be here.
Bryant: Absolutely, and unfortunately, your story, it's certainly unique, but it's not the only time we hear stories like that. We have mountains of anecdotal evidence that illustrates how financial toxicity really does impact somebody's overall quality of life, but we also have lots of scientific research to back that up. And the rates of stress, and anxiety, and depression, in individuals who've been diagnosed with cancer, and face financial burdens, skyrocket.
Hernandez-Aldama: Absolutely, you were saying with the impact of the caregivers, the family members and the caregivers have to be fit enough, mentally, physically, financially. That's part of the whole fitness wheel, I say, when you armor up to be able to get through this process because it can increase the stress. And what I advocate on our side with “ArmorUp for Life” is stress causes inflammation. Inflammation is a fertilizer for cancer. So, you're just causing more, and could potentially lead to secondary cancer, and put us at risk for more. So, it really does behoove anybody who could step in and help reduce the financial impact for cancer patients, could save lives and improve patient outcomes. So, what practical suggestions do you have on how people can avoid the financial toxicity, and who we can reach out to, to minimize that?
Morales: Well, at Triage Cancer, we have an endless number of resources that are intended not just to help patients in dealing with all of these issues related to insurance, and employment issues, and finances, but also to help caregivers, because caregivers also have rights in these circumstances. So, whether it's employment rights, or access to paid leave, depending on the state that you're in. So, caregivers can also be prepared with information about their rights and their options, so that we can help try and prepare the entire family for dealing with some of these issues, and minimizing that financial toxicity for everybody.
Hernandez-Aldama: Can you give me some examples? I love the word prepare, because it's part of my three P's, and we're all preparing ourselves for illness, so we could present well, and position ourselves to prevail, and that's preparing financially. So, how can we prepare? If someone's watching this and they have not been affected by cancer, and they don't have a loved one affected, there's still one in two chance that in their lifetime they will be affected by cancer. How can we get ready so we're financially prepared for an illness like this?
Morales: Well, ideally, if we could reach every patient when they're first diagnosed, we could give them the information that they need to make decisions throughout their whole course of treatment, and into post-treatment survivorship. But unfortunately, there are two problems with that. One, we know that when patients are first diagnosed, it's incredibly overwhelming, and so focusing on many of these practical and financial issues aren't top of mind. Top of mind is focusing on medical care, but we also know that not everybody is being connected to the resources that can help them navigate these issues like Triage Cancer. And so that's also why we work with healthcare professionals to train them about what we provide, and some of these issues that their patients might be experiencing, so that they're appropriately connecting patients to us. And when we're talking about preparing, it really is understanding all of your rights and options. And I know that sounds like just one more thing we're asking patients to do, but if someone understands all of their options, they can actually make educated decisions about the best option for them, so they can find their best path forward, because often, someone will only find out about one thing, like FMLA, or COBRA, because someone's more familiar with those things because they come up in lots of other circumstances. But knowing all of your employment rights, and all of your health insurance options might actually lead you to a better option for you.
Hernandez-Aldama: Yeah, and how to argue and be your own best advocate, and I liked that when you said that you could help us find different options. When I went through my transplant, I had to stay in an outpatient housing connected to Johns Hopkins. It was not covered. My transplant was covered, but my housing wasn't. So, how am I supposed to get here? I had to be attached to the hospital, and so we spent, just in 100 days, $10,000 cash that we charged, but then the patient next to me would say, “Oh, my insurance covered it,” and so you meet people and you're like, “Well, how did you fight for it?” So, I think these are very practical questions that patients go through. Can they just call Triage Cancer, or could they email, and say, “I need somebody to help me navigate this?” Or what would a patient who's watching do right now?
Bryant: Well, I think that the very first step is to go to triagecancer.org. We have so many resources and materials, and we present the information in multiple formats. So we have hour-long webinars that somebody could watch on-demand. We have quick guides, which are one- to four-page documents that explain a particular topic, down to a five-minute animated video. And so, we say, pick whatever medium makes the most sense for you at that moment. Another tool that we have is a tool called Cancer Finances, and this is a tool that has modules on all of the different topics that could potentially impact somebody's finances. Now, what's really unique about this tool is that it's in a choose your own adventure format, where the website will ask the user questions, and then based on how the user answers those questions, it takes them to targeted information. And we thought this was really important, because as Joanna said, people were overwhelmed. There's already too much to figure out and to deal with, and the emotions on top of it, and so we really want to be able to help people find the information that they need, and not really worry about the things they don't need to worry about, or maybe can deal with later. Which of course is the very definition of triage, and it's how we got our name.
Hernandez-Aldama Okay, that sounds great, but if after going to your website and reading that information, if patients still have questions, what do they do?
Bryant: Well, we actually have a new resource called the Legal and Financial Navigation Program. And so individuals who've been diagnosed or caregivers, or even healthcare professionals can fill out an intake form on our website. And then they'll get a link to schedule a 30-minute phone call with one of our staff, because as I mentioned earlier, sometimes the answers to the questions really do depend on somebody's specific situation. So, we're always happy to try to help provide answers to somebody's specific situation.
Hernandez-Aldama: Well, it's been great talking to both of you. We have many more episodes to do. And in our next episode, we're going to give some key steps to help you pick the best health insurance plan for you. We've talked about COBRA, we've talked about plans, we're going to dive much deeper into that in the next episode. And there are some exciting new ways that you can get help paying for your coverage, so we hope that you tune in. In the meantime, you can get more information about these very topics we discussed and what we're going to discuss, as Joanna and Monica mentioned, triagecancer.org and cancerfinances.org.
How to Triage Cancer, a cancer rights podcast, is hosted by Triage Cancer CEO Joanna Doran, Esq., COO Monica Bryant, Esq., and ArmorUp for Life Founder Loriana Hernandez-Aldama. Doran and Bryant have a combined 40 years of cancer rights legal experience, and they are authors of the first and only book on the topic. Hernandez-Aldama is a two-time cancer survivor, patient advocate, inspirational keynote speaker, and an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of on-air television experience.