Organize and Simplify Your Financial Paperwork
Managing cancer-related paperwork is an unexpected challenge for many patients, but well-organized paperwork is integral to handling financial matters. The following information provides a step-by-step approach to organizing your important records and documents.
Find a helper
Consider asking a family member or friend to help you before you start organizing, as this can be useful on many levels as you undergo treatment. There may be times during your illness when you just don’t want to deal with paperwork or don’t have the energy to focus, and your helper can be ready to step in. Additionally, your helper may have suggestions on how to organize your files, and once your system is in place, he or she can help you locate documents when necessary.
Designate a work area
Select one consistent place in the house where you will handle all of your paperwork-related tasks. This area should have a desk or table, a chair, a computer (if you plan to pay some of your bills online or store your paperwork electronically), a printer and a filing system. Some other helpful office supplies include:
- Pens and pencils
- Paper or notebooks
- Stapler and/or paper clips
- Three-hole punch
- Envelopes and stamps
- A document scanner
Choose a system for filing and storage
You have your choice of a wide range of filing systems, including individual pocket folders, three-ring binders and accordion-type file organizers. In addition, you can choose to keep your files in a filing cabinet, a desk drawer, a desktop divider, plastic totes or cardboard boxes with lids. If you’re unsure of which filing or storage system to use, visit a nearby office supply store and browse the aisles for ideas.
If you prefer to keep your documents electronically, you can avoid the need for boxes or folders and ensure the safety of your documents in case of natural disasters. However, storing files electronically means you must scan receipts and documents, which requires time. You also must regularly back up the files and make sure your helper knows your usernames and passwords to access your computer and the files.
No matter which method you choose, resist the urge to simply place everything in one file labeled “cancer” or “insurance,” as it will quickly become too large to manage. Aside from that, there’s no right or wrong system. The most important thing is that the system is easy for you (and your helper) to use.
Being creative and consistent can make organizing paperwork easier. Using different colored files, labels, stickers, pens and pencils can help you identify specific types of documents more easily, as long as you are consistent. Also be consistent in how you file; for example, following alphabetical order for your files and chronological order for your documents will make your paperwork easy to find.
Document your choices
After you decide on an organizational system, make a separate, well-organized document that contains a list of the file categories, the location of important documents, life and household instructions (including a bill payment schedule), and relevant contact information. These notes will make it easy for you and your helper to file paperwork, retrieve documents, pay bills and manage household responsibilities.
Create your own paperwork
In addition to keeping documents from your insurer and health care providers, you should create and file your own paperwork (see Table 1):
- Complete a budget worksheet every month to track your finances and become better prepared for your expenses.
- Take notes of any tips from your health care team about managing your finances so that you have them available when you need them (for a list of questions to ask, see below).
- Write down the dates of your appointments for office visits, treatments, diagnostic tests and other procedures. (These dates become important when matching documents from your insurance company and health care providers.)
- List the drugs you’re taking and the dates your prescriptions are filled.
- Keep a record of insurance-related correspondence, including the date, the name of the person with whom you spoke (or wrote), and notes from the call (or a copy of the letter).
- List the contact information for all of your health care providers, home maintenance and utility companies, and employers.
- Write down life and household instructions, including details about legal, financial and family matters.
- Keep a list of expenses that are not reimbursed by your insurer, such as office visit co-pays, prescription drug co-pays, mileage for transportation to and from appointments, and meals and accommodations (if your treatment facility is far from your home). You may be able to deduct these expenses on your federal income tax return if you itemize your medical expenses. The rules for deductions often change, so consult a tax adviser or visit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website (www.irs.gov).
Try to file new information as soon as you can. Filing papers immediately not only avoids the possibility of misplacing something, but it also keeps paperwork from piling up, which can feel overwhelming. Studies show that encountering a large amount of paperwork reduces the motivation to organize and can progress into a larger problem. When a new bill arrives, be sure to note the date you received it directly on the bill and attach any related papers to it (for example, copies of claims, correspondence about the bill, etc.). Put the bill and attachments in an “Unpaid Bills” folder until you pay it, at which time you can move it to the most appropriate folder. Schedule this work for a time of day that’s best for you, both in terms of your schedule and how you feel.
Table 1. Documents to organize and store
|Category||Specific documents||Filing tips|
|Statements and bills from health care and insurance providers||
• Account statements
• Explanation of benefits (EOB) forms
• Papers from health, life, disability and long-term care insurance providers:
– Other materials
• Copies of all claims filed
• Explanations of benefits paid
• Records of insurance payments
Ask your insurance company if you can be assigned a case manager so you can always talk to the same person.
Attach any written correspondence (letters or emails) and/or notes from phone calls to the related document, making sure you include the date of the correspondence and the name of the person with whom you communicated.
|Receipts for health care-related expenses||
• Pharmacy receipts
• Meal, gas and lodging receipts (if you traveled for treatment)
If the receipt is not itemized, attach it to a list of exactly what you purchased and why you purchased it.
Consider attaching small receipts to a larger blank piece of paper to ensure they are not lost or damaged.
|Medical records and reports||
• Treatment reports
• Hospital discharge summaries
• Operative reports
• Pathology reports
|Consider having a different file for each type of report to make them easier to locate.|
|Financial contact information||
• Names, titles, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and fax numbers for anyone who helps with financial matters:
– Financial counselor
– Social worker
– Staff member at a financial assistance organization
– Accountant, tax preparer, etc.
– Any others
|Keep dated notes from your correspondence with these people.|
|Health care contact information||
• Names, titles, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and fax numbers for all of your health care providers:
– Rehabilitation specialists
|Keep dated notes from your correspondence with these people.|
|Life, health, financial, legal and household documents and instructions||
• Details on financial accounts and retirement plans
• Life and disability insurance payout information
• Advance directives
• Living will
• Health care proxy
• Durable power of attorney
• Bill payment schedule
• Contact information for home maintenance and utility companies
• Contact information for family members, employers and schools
|Make sure these documents are clearly labeled and easy to understand so your helper can easily step in for you.|
Questions to Ask Your Health Care Team
- Who is the best person in the office to talk to about health insurance and payments?
- Will this person help me work with my health insurance company/provider?
- How much is my co-pay for each office/clinic visit? When is it due?
- Do you offer any payment plans or charity care options?
- Will I be billed separately for laboratory tests or procedures?
- Can lab work be performed by a provider in my network?
- If I require other services, will they be performed by a provider who is in-network for my insurance plan? (This is especially important for those providers you don’t meet in person as a patient, such as the radiologist and anesthesiologist.)
- Can I get an estimate of the total cost of the recommended treatment plan?
- If the recommended treatment plan is too expensive for me, are there other options that are less expensive but just as effective?
- Is my treatment schedule flexible enough to accommodate my job, my caregiver’s schedule or child/elder care?
- Is the medication prescribed covered by my health insurance plan’s preferred-drug list?
- Are there patient assistance programs available for the anti-cancer drug(s) you recommend?
- What expenses will I have if I join a clinical trial? How do I find a clinical trial that matches my diagnosis?
- Does the office offer free or low-cost transportation or reduced parking fees to patients?
- Are there nearby hotels or lodging that offer free or reduced costs to patients?
- What can I do now to help manage my future medical costs? Are there any nonmedical things that could have an impact on my future medical needs (for example, diet changes, weight changes, daily exercise, vitamins, etc.)?