The Legal Rights of Cancer Patients

June 23, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

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Your rights as a cancer patient are covered by the laws listed below.

Consider this a jumping off point to your advocacy. If you are unable to self-advocate then utilize your personal advocate as recommended in the Battling Cancer archives article Patient Advocacy.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: Basic guidelines of the ADA include:

  • Employers may not discriminate against a person with cancer or a history of cancer.
  • Employers must provide “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace for qualified employees with a disability.
  • An individual with a disability must be able to perform the “essential functions” of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.
  • Employers may ask only job-related medical questions.
  • Employers will treat all employees the same.
  • What is reasonable accommodation? It requires employers to modify an employee with cancer’s job responsibilities and or hours while they are undergoing treatment and beyond. This may include modification of work equipment or allowing an employee to come in late and make up the hours during treatment. Employers are not required to make changes that would require an undue hardship on the business.

    Report violations of the ADA to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, (EEOC), within 180 days of the incident.

    Statistics from the EEOC, “In Fiscal Year 2006 EEOC resolved 15,708 disability discrimination charges and recovered $54.4 million in monetary benefits for charging parties and other aggrieved individuals (not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation).”

    The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because they have cancer. This act only applies to employees of the executive branch of the federal government, as well as private and public employers who receive public funds. The Congressional Accountability Act prohibits the same discrimination practices in the legislative branch of government. Acts of discrimination in the executive branch of the federal government must be reported to the EEOC within 45 days of the incident.

    The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993: The FMLA allows an employee to take unpaid leave due to a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform his job or to care for a sick family member or to care for a new son or daughter (including by birth, adoption or foster care). For cancer patients, this can mean up to twelve weeks of unpaid protected leave.

    Guidelines to be covered under FMLA:

    You must be employed for 12 months or 1,250 hours prior to requesting leave and your work site employer must have at least 50 employees.

    Resources: Information and Advocacy

    The American Bar Association Breast Cancer Legal Advocacy Initiative includes information for breast cancer patients. Their ten steps to protecting the rights of breast cancer patients apply to all cancer patients when dealing with their insurance carrier. Visit their site for more details on the ten steps listed below.

    1. Read your health insurance policy carefully

    2. Determine if the treatment prescribed by your doctor is covered by your insurance policy

    3. Find out what the appeals process is for your insurance policy

    4. Consult with an expert in heath insurance law

    5. Plead your case in person

    6. Personalize your written case

    7. Obtain copies of your medical records

    8. Document everything

    9. Ask your doctor to advocate for you

    10 Be prepared to fight

    Patient Advocate Foundation: a non-profit national organization that seeks to safeguarding patients through effective mediation assuring access to care, maintenance of employment and preservation of financial stability relative to their diagnosis. Besides providing information on legal issues they also provide personal assistance.

    “Patient Advocate Foundation offers assistance to patients with specific issues they are facing with their insurer, employer and/or creditor regarding insurance, job retention and/or debt crisis matters relative to their diagnosis of life threatening or debilitating diseases.”

    National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship:

    Be your own cancer survival advocate. Download free Cancer Survival Toolbox. “The Cancer Survival Toolbox is a free, self-learning audio program that has been developed by leading cancer organizations to help people develop important skills to better meet and understand the challenges of their illness. ” It is available online or in a free CD. Especially note section 6, Standing Up For Your Rights, which is devoted to advocacy.

    American Cancer Society:

    The Patient’s Bill of Rights

    • Information and disclosure
    • Choice of providers and plans
    • Access to emergency services
    • Participation in treatment decisions
    • Respect and non discrimination
    • Confidentiality of health information
    • Right to complain and appeal

    Medicare: Your Medicare Rights and Protections. In pdf from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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    3 Responses to “The Legal Rights of Cancer Patients”
    1. Virginia says:

      I took my chemotherapy pump to work with me because I was afraid I would loose my job had fmla time left but was told I need to use that for doctors appointment as it was I made up the time
      but I think I didn’t give my body time to heal or these side effects from the treatment have really taken a toll on me.

    2. Tina says:

      Hey Ruth, thanks for posting. You right. I know folks like that, it’s a tough choice.

      You are in the book drawing btw.

    3. Ruth Blodgett says:

      Tina, that’s crucial information for those of us who have to maintain jobs and our health. Thanks so much for listing it out for us.

      I wonder what recourse people have if they’re caught in a situation where they feel discriminated against because they need the health time?


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    NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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