Study Shows Financial Hardships Start Soon After Cancer Diagnosis

Financial Hardships from Cancer Care

The cost of cancer treatment can quickly become a financial burden, a recent study’s findings show. The study found financial hardship related to cancer is more common than previously thought, and health insurance did not offset the risk.

The researchers defined a major financial hardship as debt accumulation, selling or refinancing a home, borrowing money or a 20% or more income decline. The study suggests these financial hardships can impact health and quality of life. For mesothelioma patients, there may be options to help with these burdens.

What Does the Study Show About the Cost of Cancer Care?

The study included 380 people who were diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Of those participants, only seven did not have health insurance. Participants answered a questionnaire within four months of diagnosis. Then, they answered follow-up surveys every three months for a year. Of the 380 participants, 368 responded to all the surveys.

The study found 25% of patients reported financial problems three months after diagnosis. The number of patients reporting financial problems increased to more than 71% at 12 months after diagnosis. Of the study respondents on the 12-month survey:

  • 58% reported taking on new debt
  • 27% reported a 20% decrease in household income
  • 26% reported new loans
  • 3% refinanced their mortgage
  • 3% sold their home

Some patients suffered a major financial hardship early in their treatment. These patients tended to report a lower quality of life in the next survey. The study also suggests these hardships can start shortly after diagnosis.

Previous studies estimated the number of patients experiencing financial hardships to be between 25% and 50%. But the latest study suggests this may be an underestimation, as past research did not include all data. For example, previous research findings often did not include people with advanced diseases or chronic management needs.

Cost of Cancer Care in the United States

The cost of healthcare is an important issue in the United States. In some cases, it has become an obstacle between patients and the care their physicians recommend.

Research shows certain patient factors contribute to financial hardships, including:

  • Cancer location, disease progression and stage at diagnosis
  • Health insurance coverage and any cost-sharing
  • Intensity and duration of the treatment
  • Living in a rural location
  • Loss of employment due to cancer or any accommodations an employer makes
  • Minority race or ethnicity
  • Younger age

In the 2019 Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, researchers compiled some of the most extensive data on the cost of cancer care. This report notes the economic burden from cancer care topped $21 billion. Of that total, $16.2 billion came from out-of-pocket costs. The remaining $4.8 billion reflected the cost of patients’ time. It accounted for the time patients travel to appointments, wait for care and receive care.

The economic burden matters in terms of overall outcomes, too. Research has shown that increased financial hardships lead to worse health outcomes. In some cases, extreme financial hardship has led to increased patient mortality.

Because financial hardships can dramatically affect health, it is important for doctors and patients to understand that options may be available. For example, patients may want to consider assistance from foundations or pharmaceutical companies.

What Can Mesothelioma Patients Do?

Mesothelioma patients have options available to ease financial burdens. This cancer is different from many other diseases because the diagnosis can often be tied to asbestos exposure caused by a negligent company. When it comes to financial hardships due to mesothelioma, patients may want to consider legal help.

The annual out-of-pocket costs for an average cancer patient can vary widely, according to the American Cancer Society’s 2020 Costs of Cancer report. The report examined out-of-pocket costs for lung cancer patients with and without insurance. Out-of-pocket costs include copays, coinsurance, deductibles and premiums. Patients with an individual marketplace plan had out-of-pocket costs of $12,046 annually. Patients without insurance paid upwards of $140,000 a year.

Exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma to develop. Before the 1980s, companies used asbestos in many different products and applications. These included building materials, consumer goods and more.

If a company used asbestos, it may be held liable for damages. An asbestos law firm can help patients understand their options, which can include financial compensation. Patients can use that compensation to help cover the costs of mesothelioma care.

People diagnosed with mesothelioma and their families may want to discuss their cases with an experienced asbestos attorney.