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It's the Law: Help on Breast-Cancer Issues

October 15, 2009
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When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, many of her most important questions can't be answered by a doctor: What if my insurance won't cover a new treatment? Do I risk losing my benefits if I am not working full-time? Will my boss let me take time off for treatment?

To help women answer these questions, the American Bar Association, and state and local bar associations across the country, sponsor various breast-cancer advocacy workshops. These projects feature panels of local legal experts who can help women find the answers they need -- from employment questions to insurance issues.

One Indianapolis expert on the Family and Medical Leave Act explains that when it comes to breast cancer, the top legal issue is not the denial of insurance coverage but, in fact, the continuation of employment.

Many patients face employment discrimination due to misconceptions about the disease, in addition to a lack of empathy and understanding of cancer. However, both federal and state laws protect against unlawful employment actions.

Legal professionals can help patients decipher the complex health-care provisions of insurance coverage that are often difficult to understand. They can also fight for patients' employment rights. Women with breast cancer should work with legal advocates and know that lawyers stand ready to be partners in the fight against this form of cancer.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes, underscoring the need for more legal advocacy workshops and more partnerships between doctors, lawyers and patients.

The American Bar Association's Breast Cancer Toolkit offers advice and aid(www.abanet.org/health/breastcancertoolkit). Here is just a sample of the advice the toolkit offers, with 10 steps to protecting the legal rights of breast-cancer patients:

· Read your health-insurance policy carefully.

· Determine if the treatment prescribed by your physician is covered by your policy.

· Find out about the appeals process under your insurance policy.

· Consult with an expert who is knowledgeable about health-insurance law.

· Plead your case in person to your insurance carrier.

· Personalize your written case with your insurance company.

· Obtain copies of your medical records.

· Document everything.

· Ask your physician to advocate for your treatment.

· Be prepared to fight.

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