Cancer survivors and those battling the disease spend nearly 40 percent more out-of-pocket on doctor appointments, drugs and other medical expenditures than people who have never been diagnosed with the disease, a new report found.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analysis found that younger cancer patients are facing higher bills than older ones have, suggesting that cancer care is getting more expensive.
And those costs are taking a psychological toll on survivors, according to the new report.
The authors urge that making health care – especially for cancer drugs – more affordable is imperative to improving the long-term survival of people who have already suffered through grueling cancer treatments.
Americans who have survived cancer pay an average of $1,000 a year in out-of-pocket medical costs, compared to non-survivors who pay $622 a year in such bills, the CDC reports (file)
In 2019, 1,762,450 Americans are projected to be diagnosed with cancer.
Death rates from the disease are declining steadily, falling by 27 percent over the last quarter century.
But the survivors live on with the repercussions of both cancer itself and the treatments it took to beat the disease.
That includes the financial ramifications, which are often substantial.
Nearly 17 million people in the US are living in a post-cancer diagnosis world and coping with the aftermath.
To work out how being a cancer survivor changes Americans’ healthcare spending, the CDC, American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute examined data on over 123,000 people between 18 and 64 in the US.
Those that had never had cancer spent an average of $622 a year of their own money on medical care.
Cancer patients paid substantially more, averaging $1,000 a year year in out-of-pocket spending.
Undoubtedly, that additional financial stress in part fueled their psychological distress, too.
More than 34 percent of cancer survivors reported ‘psychological hardship,’ which the report attributes to concern and worry over medical bills.
And a quarter reported actually struggling or failing to pay their medical bills.
‘These findings add to accumulating evidence documenting the financial difficulties of many cancer survivors,’ the authors wrote.
‘Mitigating the negative impact of cancer in the United States will require implementation of strategies aimed at alleviating the disproportionate financial hardship experienced by many survivors.’
What’s more, the cancer survivors captured in the latest data reported higher costs and more distress than previous generations of cancer survivors.
As cancer treatments like immunotherapy become more advanced and effective, they also become more expensive.
But even for chemotherapies, which have been around for decades, costs have continued to climb, and surgeries and radiation therapy for cancer are expensive as well.
Depending on the cancer, the drugs involved in treating it may cost any where from $5,000 for skin cancer to $108,000 for brain cancer for the first year of treatment.
And that doesn’t begin to account for the indirect medical costs of cancer treatment.
Cancer patients often develop complications or side effects from their cancer or its treatments, and need to see specialists – such as cardiologists and endocrinologists – to address these.
According to the new CDC report, out-of-pocket medical costs are twice as likely to take up more than 20 percent of a cancer survivor’s family income than they are to drain the same proportion of money from someone without a history of cancer.
Ten percent of Americans remain without insurance, which means that their costs, if they were diagnosed with cancer would be nothing short of ruinous.
Uninsured cancer survivors spent less on out-of-pocket medical costs in absolute terms, but a greater proportion of their family incomes than survivors who had insurance.
But, the new study notes, ‘even many cancer survivors with private insurance coverage reported borrowing money, being unable to cover their share of medical care costs, going into debt or filing for bankruptcy.’
And the US is on track for more people to get cancer in the next decade, and that means more costs to those people.
‘The findings in this report might lead to increased awareness in all sectors of the public health and medical community that the rising cost of cancer care is a major barrier to survivors’ well-being,’ the authors wrote.
‘Efforts at the provider, practice, employer, payer, state, and federal levels are needed to develop and implement evidence-based and sustainable interventions’ such as connecting them with financial aid resources, and having open dialogues about the cost of treatment and the patients’ finances throughout their treatment – ‘to minimize financial hardship for cancer survivors.’