Your Legal Rights as a Cancer Survivor
Practical tips for addressing the most common legal issues faced by cancer survivors today
by Shelly Rosenfeld, Esq
Don’t wait until a legal issue arises to learn your rights. As a cancer survivor, it’s important to know your legal rights so you can advocate for yourself before legal issues become a problem. These practical tips can help guide you through some of the most common legal issues faced by cancer survivors today.
Request job accommodations before your work performance is affected.
Cancer and cancer treatment can make some aspects of your job more difficult. If this happens to you, then you may be entitled to something called a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A reasonable accommodation is any change to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done that allows an individual with a disability to do their job.
The ADA protects workers with disabilities from discrimination, and people with cancer are usually considered “disabled’ under the ADA. That means an employer bound by the ADA is not allowed to discriminate against you if you have cancer. They might even have to change the work environment to help you keep doing the essential functions of your job, as long as the changes aren’t too hard or expensive for the employer to make. For example, a reasonable accommodation might be a change to your work schedule so you can go to doctor’s appointments.
It’s important to request accommodations before your work performance is affected. If you haven’t informed your employer about your need for an accommodation and your work performance suffers, they might be allowed to write you up or even fire you. It’s also worth noting that the ADA only applies to companies with 15 or more employees, so if you work for a smaller company, you should check to see if your state’s fair employment law covers you.
Check your bill for medical errors.
Before you write a check, make sure to do a check. A simple review of a medical bill can help you avoid paying for billing mistakes. It’s always a good idea to review your bills to make sure you aren’t being charged for services you didn’t receive and to look for other errors.
You might be able to negotiate your medical bills.
If you are unable to pay your medical bills, contact the billing department at your doctor’s office or hospital. You may be able to set up a payment plan or even settle the debt for less than what is owed. However, it is critical that you negotiate a payment plan or settlement before a bill is sent to collections or it can damage your credit score.
If you can’t pay your rent, talk to your landlord.
If you cannot afford to pay your rent, contact your landlord as soon as possible. You may be able to negotiate a deal with the property owner or be allowed to move out early. If you do not pay your rent, your landlord can start eviction proceedings against you, even if you have cancer. Housing laws vary from state to state. To help with landlord disputes, including eviction notices, contact an attorney who works in tenant law, or a legal aid organization.
Study your insurance policy and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
People tend to assume that doctors and nurses fully understand each cancer survivor’s insurance coverage and that their medical team wouldn’t suggest a treatment that isn’t covered by insurance. However, that is not always the case. To avoid unexpected bills, it’s important for you to know exactly what is covered by your insurance.
It is your responsibility to understand your healthcare coverage. Find and read your policy, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. To verify plan coverage, review the summary plan description, read the evidence of coverage booklet available online, or call the insurance company and ask them to mail you a hard copy of their policy. If you are participating in an employer group health plan, ask your employer’s Human Resources department for a description of covered benefits.
If you have questions about your plan, call your insurance company and take detailed notes on what the service representative tells you. If you’re not feeling well during this time, you can ask a trusted friend or family member to help. Becoming familiar with your health coverage before you need it can help you avoid surprises or additional costs later.
Shelly Rosenfeld is a staff attorney at the Cancer Legal Resource Center, a national program of the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles, CA. CLRC provides free education and resources on cancer-related legal questions to cancer survivors, caregivers, and healthcare professionals.
Knowing your legal rights and how to enforce them can help you protect yourself today and prevent legal problems in the future. For more tips or answers to your cancer-related legal questions, contact the CLRC at (866) 843-2572 or visit TheDRLC.org.
Disclaimer: Through this article, the author is not engaged in rendering any legal or professional services by its publication or distribution. This article is not intended to be legal advice or to establish an attorney-client relationship.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2019.