What are the average health-related costs to U.S. patients who survive cancer?
As we are all aware, patients diagnosed with serious cancers have to contend with a great deal of emotional stress in addition to their medical issues. In the United States, most have to deal with serious financial burdens as well. Survivors of three common cancers have medical costs high enough to create economic hardship, sometimes leading to bankruptcy filing.
Zhiyuan Zheng, PhD, senior health services researcher at the American Cancer Society, and his colleagues, studied this situation as it related to three types of cancer — breast, colorectal, and prostate. The results were published online this past December in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Zheng’s study focused took into account various costs beyond excessive medical expenses, including health-related costs (such as transportation to and from medical appointments) and lost productivity, describing the catastrophic economic impact on patients and their families as “financial toxicity.”
The study found that unaffordable healthcare payments often resulted in cancer survivors, particularly young ones, missing follow-up care that could be life-saving. It also found that many cancer survivors of all ages sometimes skipped prescribed doses of medication because of the exorbitant cost of cancer drugs.
The highest expenses uncovered by the study were those associated with colorectal cancer in the “non-elderly,” defined as individuals between 18 and 64 years of age. For these patients, average costs were over $20,000 annually. For breast cancer patients, the costs were typically over $14,000, and for prostate cancer patient just under $10,000. Among the elderly, there was some variation in the costs of the different cancers — $19,000 for colorectal cancer, almost $17,000 for prostate cancer, and over $14,000 for breast cancer. In all cases, the costs remained excessive, impossible for most lower or middle-income families to absorb.
Dr. Zheng was quoted in Medscape Medical News as reporting that, “The high excess burden among working-age cancer survivors is likely related to being unable to work due to illness. This results in loss of income and insurance. And family members might have to sacrifice their working time to take care of cancer survivors.” Dr. Zheng also points out that “younger cancer survivors are more likely to file personal bankruptcy because of accumulated debt
Of course, parallel situations may prevail among the elderly who, though they may continue to receive small fixed incomes from Social Security benefits and/or pensions, will have to depend upon caretakers they have to pay or relatives who have to take unpaid time from their own employment.
It was estimated that 14.5 million people alive in the United States in 2014 were survivors of cancer and this number is only expected to grow because of a combination of an increase in the number of elderly and the increase in the rates of certain types of cancer. As Dr. Zheng has remarked “cancer survivorship programs should also make efforts to identify cancer survivors who are at risk of extremely high financial burden.”
If you are in difficult financial straits whether because of cancer or other health problems, or for some other reason, you should consult with an experienced and compassionate bankruptcy attorney.