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1 in 4 Cancer Survivors Faces 'Financial Hardship' Due to Medical Costs

HealthDay News
by -- E.J. Mundell
Updated: Jun 6th 2019

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THURSDAY, June 6, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- For many Americans under 65 who've battled and survived cancer, the financial fight is far from over. A new report finds that a quarter of adult survivors say they are experiencing "material financial hardship" trying to cover medical costs.

Cancer survivors with and without insurance suffered from high medical bills, according to a team led by Donatus Ekwueme, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The population of cancer survivors is growing, and many struggle to pay for medical care," his team concluded.

The report is based on an analysis of 2011-2016 data from a federal survey involving almost 125,000 Americans between 18 and 64 years of age. Nearly 5,000 said they were cancer survivors, with half having been diagnosed within the past five years.

Annual out-of-pocket costs were higher for cancer survivors than the general population -- averaging about $1,000 for the former and $622 for the latter, the study found.

Often, these medical bills were tough to pay.

"Financial hardship was common; 25.3% of cancer survivors reported material hardship (e.g., problems paying medical bills), and 34.3% reported psychological hardship (e.g., worry about medical bills)," the CDC team reported. Out-of-pocket spending tended to be higher for older cancer survivors and those who had more health issues.

Not surprisingly, "survivors who were uninsured were most likely to report material financial hardship," researchers said, but even the insured often found themselves saddled with high out-of-pocket expenses.

"Even many cancer survivors with private insurance coverage reported borrowing money, being unable to cover their share of medical costs, going into debt, or filing for bankruptcy," Ekwueme's group said.

And, researchers said, the number of Americans who are cancer survivors is likely to increase, along with the number facing these financial pressures. What to do?

The CDC team said more must be done to incorporate potential "financial hardship" into the care plans of newly diagnosed cancer patients "and throughout the cancer care trajectory." And when offering treatment choices, the projected cost to the patient of a particular therapy should be part of the discussion, Ekwueme and colleagues said.

Finally, the researchers called for efforts to link "patients and survivors to available resources" they might turn to for financial help.

The study was published June 7 in the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

More information

The Kaiser Family Foundation has more on health costs.