Avoiding financial disaster can add stress to patient’s battle against the disease by Peter Moore, AARP The Magazine
PHOTO COURTESY VJ SLEIGHT
Expenses from cancer treatment, including those for imaging and scans, can quickly overwhelm patients and families.
If you are diagnosed with cancer, which expert should you see first?
1. A medical specialist
2. A money manager
Surprisingly, option two might give you the best hope for surviving the disease with your health — and your wealth — intact. Not only are cancer patients 2½ times as likely to declare bankruptcy as healthy people, but those patients who go bankrupt are 80 percent more likely to die from the disease than other cancer patients, according to studies from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. “For many patients, when they get the bills, it can be as bad as some of the side effects of the disease or the treatment,” says the center’s Gary Lyman, M.D.
What makes cancer such a financial killer? Average costs for treatment run in the $150,000 range. The reasons aren’t mysterious. Cancers occur at the cellular level, with abnormal cells dividing and spreading. Containing the cancer and killing those abnormal cells without damaging nearby healthy cells often requires a range of treatments over an extended period of time — lengthy radiation, complicated surgeries, costly chemotherapy, plus other strong medications to supercharge your immunity.
New cancer treatments emerge routinely, but with new hope comes even more cost: 11 of the 12 cancer drugs that the Food and Drug Administration approved in 2012 were priced at more than $100,000 per year. Compare that with, say, treating heart disease.
Cardio procedures and medicines are well established, and a big part of the solution is lifestyle changes — eating well, exercising and reducing stress. That’s why treating a heart attack may cost around $39,000.
Yes, insurance covers much of cancer’s medical costs. With a good policy, a patient is probably looking at a bill of more than $4,000 in deductibles and copays in a year before costs are fully covered. Medicare patients will have lower deductibles but may still be on the hook for thousands in copays. The costs of treatment itself, though, are only part of the story. The testing required for a diagnosis and follow-up tests to gauge the effectiveness of treatments easily add up to thousands of dollars. In addition, patients also must grapple with loss of income during several months of treatment and recovery, plus any expenditures for travel and lodging at a cancer-centric health facility. And then there are the follow-up tests, which persist for years and are equally efficient at piling up copays and deductibles.
The deductible/co-pay/out-of-pocket gap is precisely where Women’s Cancer Fund serves. By paying the past-due rents and utilities of patients and families in financial need, we are making the journey through cancer easier.
Learn more at: https://womenscancerfund.org/