Managing the Cost of Cancer Care

It can be as life-changing as the diagnosis itself: the financial impact of cancer care.

It’s a national issue with no comprehensive solution on the horizon.  Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that cancer care costs are rising at two to three times the rate of other medical costs.  The price tag for promising new therapies can exceed tens of thousands per month, the organization says.  And, in the face of those realities, insurance companies continue to look for ways to transfer larger portions of the tab to individuals.

Financial Toxicity

If you’ve received a cancer diagnosis, you’re already aware that the personal financial challenge is unique to you and every other survivor you know.  It depends on huge number of variables including your type of cancer and treatment plan, financial situation prior to diagnosis, profession, insurance, and many others.

Attributed to researchers at Duke University nearly 10 years ago, the term “financial toxicity” was coined to describe the objective financial burden on survivors, including time lost in treatment, plus threlated distress that can have adverse effects on well-being.  A National Institutes of Health article for health professionals notes that between 33% and 80% of survivors have used savings to pay the bills—bills that keep coming for years after treatment is finished.  Many borrow money from friends or family.  People also decrease spending on essentials, sell possessions, and change housing.  Survivors are 2.7 times more likely to declare bankruptcy than people without a cancer diagnosis.

Negative health impacts are generally accepted but less well-studied.  A few researchers have pointed to increased psychological distress and depressed mood on the part of people experiencing cancer-related financial toxicity.

The Duke scientists noted that one of the most frequent results of financial stress is non-adherence to treatment plans and prescription abandonment.  They cited a study that showed 9% of patients decided against a recommended therapy due to the cost.

Take Two Key Steps

Survivors and cancer care professionals agree: the way to transform yourself from feeling overwhelmed by bills without a way to cope is to be proactive.  Though it can take a little time to get organized and see clarity forming out of chaos, it can be done.  It makes all the difference when you feel empowered and in control.

Here are two key first steps to take:

  • Seek help.

No matter how capable you feel, you’ll be more prepared to confront the costs of care and the organizations involved with an ally by your side.  This usually means a family member or friend.  If you don’t have one who fits, ask your healthcare team to refer you to an oncology social worker or a financial counselor with relevant experience.  To get started, you can call the Cancer Support Community Helpline at 888-793-9355.  Online chat is also available.

  • Understand each cost you’re likely to incur.

You know you’ll be paying the cost of working with your medical team, treatments, prescriptions, and perhaps a caregiver.  But have you figured in expenses for related support such as counseling, transportation, and child care?  Speak to your doctors and nurses about what to expect and work with your financial ally to make a list.

Your Next Moves

These next moves should help you feel ready for whatever comes:

  • Contact your insurance company.

Seek a knowledgeable benefits coordinator at your insurance company to speak with.  It’s worthwhile to find out if a case manager is available so you can talk to the same person each time you have questions.  Ask about deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance, and deadlines.

If you don’t have insurance, a good resource for you is the social worker or financial counselor associated with your hospital or treatment center.  You may qualify for a plan through the Affordable Care Act.  We also invite you to visit our information page or call our helpline: 888-793-9355.

  • Create an organizing system.

Gather an assortment of file folders or an accordion file to keep track of every scrap of paper related to your care.  This will help you in a routine activity—matching EOB’s (explanation of benefit forms) to bills—and general recordkeeping.

Move Forward

With basic systems and support in place, you’re ready to address your bills and ways to lower them.  Looking into patient assistance programs from pharmaceutical companies is a good idea, and you might want to consider reaching out to local agencies and non-profits.  It’s a good bet there are several you don’t know about; is a great place to start.  Review this booklet from the American Society of Clinical Oncology as well.  It’s a valuable resource.

Understanding how financial toxicity can affect survivors, the Cancer Support Community Southwest has developed resources for you as well.  We encourage you to read through our entire website, then download this guide.  It offers detailed information about the costs of care, tips to help you budget and lower costs, worksheets, and many resources you can access.

Join Us for a Workshop!

You’re invited to hear practical advice from financial experts in an online workshop on December 2nd from 5:30 – 7:30 PM.  Two local guest speakers will discuss issues such as employment, insurance, and creditors as well as the psychological effects of carrying debt.  They’ll offer practical advice and resources you can use—and the session is free!

Register here or call us for more information: 970-403-3711.