Why 25% of Patients Can’t Afford the High Cost of Cancer Care
The good news is organizations can help families navigate their cancer journey
“No one saves for cancer. And it’s devastating to deal with financial problems on top of dealing with your diagnosis” Megan Rizzo-Canny
According to the CDC, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US and is responsible for a shocking 600,000 deaths per year. An eye-opening survey conducted by the CDC revealed that 1 in 4 cancer patients struggle to pay their medical bills and 1 in 3 worry about how they will be able to pay the out-of-pocket medical expenses incurred.
High Cost of Cancer Care
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, it may involve a long-term treatment plan with multiple doctor visits, labs, surgeries, different types of medications, and complementary therapies. It is not just the financial burden of the cancer treatment that patients and their families have to deal with but myriad other expenses as Peter Ubel, a Physician and behavioral scientist at Duke University explains in this excerpt: “When people with cancer have trouble paying their medical bills, you can bet they are struggling to pay their mortgages, their rents, maybe even their weekly grocery bills.”
Considering the fact that in 2019 alone the out-of-pocket expenses for breast cancer treatment were a staggering $3.14 billion, it comes as no surprise therefore that out-of-pocket expenses can potentially lead to financial ruin considering the fact that not many have money saved for a rainy day. According to Joanna Fawzy Morales, a cancer rights attorney and CEO of Triage Cancer, some other factors that can contribute to higher out-of-pocket expenses include:
- Not having adequate health insurance coverage.
- Having a plan that doesn’t cover the providers they want to see or their life-saving prescription medications.
- Their healthcare plan has a high deductible or out-of-pocket maximum.
Because of the high cost of medications, the out-of-pocket maximum on private insurance plans is often reached within the first few months after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Moreover, they have to repeat the same process of meeting the deductible and out-of-pocket maximum once their plan renews or they switch to a new plan. For those who are uninsured, the high cost of medical care can become a barrier to receiving high-value medical care, and what is worse, they may even be charged higher rates for their treatment than those with health insurance.
It is no wonder that a KHN-NPR investigation of America’s nagging healthcare debt issue showed that even though there are 100 million people who are in some form of medical or dental debt, few suffer more than those who have cancer.
Income Loss and Workplace Discrimination
Apart from the high cost of medical care in the US, cancer patients or their loved ones find themselves in dire financial circumstances due to lost wages as a result of the inability to work during treatment.
Usually, people need time off once they receive a cancer diagnosis in order to go to their appointments and recover from the treatment or surgeries. While some are able to do so without losing their jobs or medical benefits, that is not always the case due to workplace discrimination.
In the case of Megan Rizzo-Canny, the sole breadwinner of her household and diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38, her employer initially promised they would let her keep her job but later reneged. She learned that she had just 2 weeks of salary and coverage left just as she was completing chemotherapy and getting ready for surgery but she did not take it lying down as this excerpt explains: “Rizzo-Canny fought back by finding a law firm that would take on her case on a no win, no fee basis and sued her former employer. Rather than charge her legal fees, the law firm agreed to take a percentage of the settlement if they won the case. Her lawyers negotiated an out-of-court settlement that allowed her to keep her employer-provided health insurance for a few more months and helped her get access to disability insurance benefits that provide income for her family.”
The self-employed, part-time, or gig economy workers who are uninsured or underinsured are especially vulnerable. They may never recover financially due to the expensive cost of cancer treatment for patients without health insurance in the US.
How to Get Help
A cancer diagnosis can cause stress and anxiety when considering the long and arduous journey ahead, however, there are organizations that provide relief in the form of cancer care, transportation, and even housing.
One such organization that is able to provide wraparound services to meet the daily living needs of young families navigating cancer throughout the journey?
Katie Quintas founded Here to Serve, a pediatric cancer charity based in California, from her experience dealing with the cancer diagnoses of both her husband and son: “I conceived of Here to Serve to organize and bring together, not only the community of volunteers who wish to help but also the many support services that often go untapped because you either are not aware of them or do not have the energy to seek them out.”
How can Here to Serve help your family?
- Provide hard-to-find pediatric cancer resources at the start and throughout treatment as needs arise. With over twelve years of experience identifying foundations that provide funds for pediatric cancer patients, Here to Serve can drastically reduce the time a family spends researching funding sources. They are also experts at setting up effective Go-Fund-Me pages for families.
- Family care coordinators mobilize others to meet the daily living requirements of families with children battling cancer for the entirety of their cancer treatment, which for some can mean years.
- Online Care Communities provide a network of services and financial assistance for families caring for their child or spouse battling cancer.
I invite you to share this post with families who are struggling with cancer so they can get support in their journey from Here to Serve.
By Yana BG
Originally published on Medium