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New Report: Cancer Survivors Face High Costs of Care and Debt Years After Treatment

Cancer Survivors Have Greater Risk of Financial Hardship Due to Lifelong Health Costs

December 8, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C.—December 8, 2022—The costs of being diagnosed with cancer last long after the diagnosis and initial treatment putting cancer survivors at increased risk for lifelong financial hardship, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

The report, The Costs of Cancer Survivorship, examines several of the long-term expenses cancer survivors face in the years after they complete their initial treatment, including costs for maintenance treatment, monitoring for disease progression, recurrence or secondary cancers, ongoing side effects from their initial cancer treatment, late and long-term side effects, and mental health care needs. Research shows cancer survivors have higher annual out-of-pocket health care costs and carry more cancer-related medical debt than people who have not had cancer.

“The end of cancer treatment, unfortunately, is rarely the end of high costs for cancer survivors,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of ACS CAN. “Survivors face a lifetime of follow-up tests, treatments for side effects and other expensive medical needs that can leave them struggling with significant debt.”

The report makes clear the numerous and compounding costs survivors face using profiles of three theoretical survivors with actual clinically recommended follow-up care and costs: one with a history of breast cancer, another recovered from prostate cancer, and a childhood leukemia survivor. In all the profiles the single biggest factor effecting their costs is their insurance coverage. The extent and structure of a plan as well as a patient’s other health issues can vary widely.

For instance, the breast cancer survivor’s costs varied from under $3,000 if she has a large employer plan wherein her employer covers the premiums, to over $10,000 in premiums and deductibles for a small employer, high-deductible plan. The medical costs the prostate survivor incurred nearly doubled to over $20,000 when accounting for his Type II diabetes treatments. And for the childhood leukemia survivor struggling with treatment-associated fertility issues, the out-of-pocket costs soared above $75,000 as few insurance plans cover fertility services. 

“Insurance coverage continues to determine someone’s ability to detect, treat and survive this disease—physically and financially,” said Lacasse. “Considering there are more than 18 million cancer survivors in this country and more than 1.9 million people diagnosed with the disease each year, we need to consider how to help cancer survivors get out from under the costs of their care, and live productive lives.”

The report details several policies that should be enacted to help survivors afford their care, including:

  • Eliminating pre-existing conditions exclusions in all health insurance coverage, including in short-term limited duration and other health care sharing plans.
  • Expanding financial assistance programs to more low- and middle-income patients and ensuring payment or financial products offered to patients to pay their medical bills are not predatory.
  • Capping all out-of-pocket costs in Medicare.
  • Addressing unexpected cost-sharing for cancer screenings.
  • Requiring coverage for cancer-related fertility preservation services.

 

“While we’ve made significant progress reducing the number of uninsured people in this country over the last decade, we continue to struggle to make the available coverage and associated cancer care affordable,” said Lacasse. “Passing these proven policies to reduce cancer’s financial burden is critical to reducing the overall burden of this disease on ourselves and our loved ones.”

The Costs of Cancer Survivorship report is the latest in a series of ACS CAN reports assessing the costs of a cancer diagnosis but is the first to focus specifically on survivors.

Read the full report: https://www.fightcancer.org/survivorshipcosts

Media Contacts

Allison Miller
Director, Media Advocacy
Washington, D.C.