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Changes to finances

Cancer can have a major impact on your finances. Most cancer treatment is covered by provincial health plans, but coverage may vary from province to province. Many non-medical costs may not be covered by provincial health plans or basic health insurance. You may have to spend money on:

  • travelling to and from treatment or appointments
  • some drugs
  • child care
  • home care
  • nutritional or food supplements
  • medical equipment or supplies

You may also need to take unpaid time away from work, which can also affect your income. If you don’t have disability or health benefits, or if you are self-employed or unemployed, the financial impact of cancer may be particularly hard for you and your family. You may have to use your savings or borrow money to pay for cancer care.

A good first step is to understand more about your health insurance and any options that you may have.

Types of health and life insurance

There are different types of healthcare plans, services and insurance, including public and private insurance.

Public insurance

The federal government provides coverage for certain health services. The provinces and territories also provide coverage to certain groups of people, for health services not generally covered by the federal government. Coverage of supplementary health benefits varies across the country. For more information on Canada's healthcare system (Medicare), go to Health Canada’s website or check with your cancer centre.

Private insurance

Many Canadians also have additional private insurance through group plans with an employer or through private insurance companies. There are many different types of private health insurance coverage. Some companies may offer more protection for extended health benefits than others.

  • An employer or union often provides group life insurance and extended health benefits on behalf of their employees or members. Most human resources departments can help employees find out about their specific benefits. For example, some companies may have a 3-month to 6-month waiting period before benefits take effect. An employee may have to pay a percentage of the cost of services or there may be a yearly or lifetime limit.
  • A social worker or financial advisor may have information about which companies provide extended health benefits, critical illness, travel or life insurance and what they have to offer.

For more information on group and individual life and health insurance plans in Canada, go to the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA) or OmbudService for Life and Health Insurance.

Disability benefits

A disability prevents an employee from working at their job on a regular basis. The reason for the disability is usually clear, such as having chemotherapy or recovering from major surgery.

Short-term disability benefits

Short-term disability (STD) is a type of insurance that pays a percentage of your salary for a specified amount of time, if you are unable to work.

Check with your human resources department about the type of STD benefits offered by your employer. There may be a limit on the number of days or months that you may be covered by STD benefits. You may be required to use up all of your sick days before starting STD, or it may start after a certain amount of time after you are not able to work.

Long-term disability benefits

Long-term disability (LTD) is a type of insurance that pays a percentage of your salary, if you are not able to work for a long period of time, or are unable to return to work at all. LTD benefits may be offered after short-term disability benefits end. LTD benefits vary depending on the plan.

You will be asked to provide detailed medical information when you apply for LTD benefits. You may have several medical forms to fill in, some of which have to be completed by all of the doctors responsible for your care. A medical update may be needed at certain times and there may be a limit to the amount of time you can draw benefits.

You may qualify for government disability benefits through the Canada Pension Plan disability program or the Quebec Pension Plan disability program.

Income tax claims

Some of your medical costs (such as drugs, equipment and supplies) may be claimed on your income tax returns. You may be able to claim other costs such as travelling to treatments or child care. Speak with a tax advisor or accountant about income tax deductions that you may be able to claim.

Seriously disabled people may qualify for a disability deduction on their income tax and can obtain these forms from Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) or an accountant.

Who can help

Social workers can help you find out more about financial assistance programs through community organizations, government or other resources that provide financial help or benefits. Most cancer treatment centres have a psychosocial oncology department with social workers.

Account managers at your bank, personal financial planners or advisors can help you budget your money and help you decide whether you should access equity in your home, RRSPs or other investments.

Don’t forget about friends, relatives or other people in your community. There may be a bookkeeper or accountant who would be happy to help you with sorting out some money matters. Church groups, school groups or other community organizations often get involved and help with raising money during times of serious illness.

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