Aug 02

The "C" Word

by Jess

Sentinel provides service to patients with a wide variety of medical diagnoses. However, the most complex and challenging situations are when a patient learns they have a diagnosis of the dreaded “C” word - Cancer. I would venture to say that most of us have personally known someone affected by this disease. With progression of disease we witness the physical, emotional and financial toll it has not only on the patient but family members as well.

The first reaction we have after hearing a friend or family member has a diagnosis of cancer is usually - shock. Once we get past the pit in our stomach we wonder - "How can I help?"  As a case manager I try to speak directly with such patients, your employees or their dependents, on a regular basis. In my conversations it is surprising to hear the questions that are frequently asked. Some relate to treatment and options but a large portion are ironically financial in nature. They include:

  • Will my salary continue while disabled and receiving treatment?
  • How long before my employment terminates after I become disabled?
  • Can I file for unemployment benefits once I’m terminated?
  • Do I have long term disability benefits after short-term coverage ends?
  • How long will I be covered under the group health benefit plan?
  • Can COBRA or Mini-COBRA coverage be elected after my group health coverage ends and how much will it cost?
  • Will I be eligible for Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security Disability due to my condition or financial status?
  • If I am able to go back to work but at a different capacity is my employer responsible to make accommodations based on the change in my physical/mental status?

As you can see, patients do not always ask me questions related to their health, although I am a Registered Nurse. I explain to patients that answers vary with each employer benefit plan. In all cases I recommend the patient speak with the benefit administrator and their employer’s human resource department.

Cancer patients have a lot going on in their lives. Financial and benefit issues can be one less concern for them when their employer is prepared regarding specific company policies and benefits. The above are just a sampling of questions. As an employer you can use the questions to compile appropriate responses. It is also extremely important to be up front and honest regarding what benefits, if any, will be available.

Another point to consider is that a cancer patient might be classified as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This may obligate the employer to provide specific accommodations and hold them responsible if they do not.

An informative website is:

Questions and Answers About Cancer in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA )@

It provides information on: determining if an employee with cancer is disabled; the employer’s right to question an employee about their health; and, providing reasonable accommodation for the employee.

Another valuable resource is:

I hope this has provided additional insight on some ways to assist an employee after being diagnosed with cancer. Of course, there are many ways to be involved and show support during such a difficult struggle. I encourage you to give the best of yourself to those who need it most in their time of need.

Just J & B:


Bob is a managed care coordinator who in 1984 started as a compliance analyst for credit and mortgage insurance. Later he shifted to major medical. This staff member has spent countless hours reviewing claims, medical policy and has a lot to say about both.


Jess is a nurse case manager dedicated to patient advocacy after receiving her RN license in 1998. This long time staff member provides her unique perspective based on thousands of conversations held with patients and providers.



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