Chris Hansen, ACS CAN President

ACS CAN President Lisa Lacasse shares her views on the impact of advocacy on the cancer fight.


Pandemic and Threat to Patient Protections Magnify the "Costs of Cancer"

October 22, 2020

Anyone who has heard the words, “You have cancer,” – or supported a loved one, a family member or a colleague who did – can attest to how devastating and life-altering a cancer diagnosis is. As a leading cause of death and disease in our country, cancer already bears an enormous toll on the personal lives and health of patients and survivors as well as on our nation’s health care system. That’s before even taking into consideration the often-shocking financial burden that follows a diagnosis. The true costs of cancer are heavy, they are deep, and they are ultimately unaffordable for many, a challenge further exacerbated by this year’s COVID-19 pandemic and spotlighted by the upcoming Supreme Court case challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The 2020 edition of ACS CAN's The Costs of Cancer report illustrates just how staggering this financial burden can be. In 2018, cancer patients paid $5.6 billion out of pocket for cancer treatments. Overall, the disease cost our country $183 billion in direct cancer-related health care spending in 2015—an amount that is projected to increase to $246 billion by 2030.  The weight of these rising costs is felt directly by people with cancer and their families, their employers and their insurance companies. It’s an incredible burden to bear when fighting for your life.

The report also notes that this financial hardship doesn’t impact all cancer patients equally. Those who are younger, people of color, those with lower income and those with lower education levels experience a disparate impact from financial hardship caused by these high cancer costs. The range of total costs also varies significantly depending on what health insurance you have, such as non-comprehensive short-term limited-duration plans that are not required to cover essential health benefits or cap patient expenses.

Addressing the “costs of cancer” has taken on a whole new meaning this year as we enter the eighth month of the COVID-19 pandemic. The issue of affordability of health care is magnified significantly as millions worry about job loss, reduced income and losing access to their employer-sponsored health insurance, a scenario detailed specifically in the report. We already know that cancer patients and survivors are feeling the brunt of both the public health and economic crises. A Survivor Views survey we fielded in May found that cancer patients are under significant financial strain, with 46 percent saying the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted their ability to pay for care in some way – an increase from 38 percent earlier in the year.

Cancer patients are in need of public policy changes that can reverse these trends. Nearly one in five of patients surveyed by ACS CAN identified “Reducing out-of-pocket costs of health insurance” as a health care policy priority. Last week’s Kaiser Family Foundation poll (Figure 8) found that 63% of registered voters considered Lowering the cost of health care for individuals to be “very important” in their 2020 vote choice.    

Our elected officials have the power to pursue policies that will address the high costs of cancer – and with a majority of voters saying health care issues are important in deciding their 2020 vote choice, a responsibility to take action on this important issue. We urge all policymakers to urgently engage against the looming threat of dismantling critical patient protections should the ACA be struck down by the Supreme Court, and to join us in advancing solutions for the millions of cancer patients, survivors and their families who deserve affordable care.