Money Matters: A Sad Truth about the Costs of Cancer Care

At LIVESTRONG, we tell stories. We like those that make us feel good, with heroes or heroines and a happy ending. But, sometimes, we have to tell sad ones, too. Ones that make us angry and wonder what more we could do to change things to keep it from being anyone’s reality. This is one of those stories.

Last week, the premier health policy journal Health Affairs published an article co-authored by LIVESTRONG along with researchers from CDC, NCI, and Kaiser Permanente as well as other leading health agencies. The authors analyzed LIVESTRONG data from 2012 to conclude about one-third of the nearly 5,000 survivors responding to our survey had gone into debt because of their cancer, with 55% incurring debt of $10,000 or more. Of this group, 87% reported being “worried about paying large bills related to cancer” and 9% said they or another person in their family filed for bankruptcy because of it.

The article offers that new policies might limit such financial hardship faced by cancer survivors. For example, the Affordable Care Act, which was fully-implemented two years following the 2012 LIVESTRONG Survey, puts in place a number of patient protections related to out-of-pocket expenses. In fact, unpublished data from a joint project between ACS CAN, LIVESTRONG, and Urban Institute shows there is no significant difference between cancer survivors and insured adults without cancer when it comes to medical debt. However, insured survivors are still more likely to have trouble paying medical bills within the past year and also report high out-of-pocket expenses. In particular, middle-class working-age adults and those with multiple chronic conditions are affected by the affordability issue.

As the authors of the Health Affairs article recommend, we need more research on the costs of cancer for cancer survivors in order to mitigate their financial hardship and possible treatment delays. New studies should inform solutions at multiple levels, targeting patients, providers, payers, and policies. In the meantime, LIVESTRONG will continue to support survivors with treatment costing tools, financial assistance resources, and platforms to share their stories — good and bad — about the costs of cancer.