Washington, D.C.—Cancer patients and survivors are finding it increasingly challenging to get necessary health care as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. Many are experiencing financial stress and mental health issues as they try to navigate the difficult health and economic environment.
An American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) survey of cancer patients and survivors focused on COVID-19 effects found 87% of respondents said the pandemic had affected their health care in some manner, up from 51% in an April survey. Of those in active treatment 79% reported delays to their health care (up from 27%), including 17% of patients who reported delays to their cancer therapy.
Nearly one in four patients surveyed say the pandemic has made it more difficult to contact their providers with questions about their health care needs, and one in five say they are worried their cancer could be growing or returning due to delays and interruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The situation is getting worse, not better for cancer patients during this pandemic,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). “A cancer diagnosis brings any number of challenges and stressors, but right now it’s even more fraught with additional barriers to timely and affordable care that could be further exacerbated by job loss – like millions of Americans have already endured.”
Patients are also under significant financial strain. Forty-six percent said the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted their financial situation and ability to pay for care in some way (up from 38%). And nearly a quarter (23%) said they worry they may lose their health insurance due to the pandemic and its effects on the economy.
This combined medical and financial stress has resulted in nearly half (48%) of patients saying the COVID-19 pandemic has had a moderate or major effect on their mental health. In particular, 67% said they worry it will be harder for them to stay safe when social distancing and other restrictions are relaxed in their area.
“COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the barriers to affordable health care that cancer patients have long faced,” said Lacasse. “The survey responses highlight the increasing and urgent need for Congress to swiftly pass measures that help these patients alleviate their physical, financial and emotional strain during and beyond the pandemic.”
In North Carolina, ACS CAN is urging the General Assembly to include the following in their second COVID-19 Relief Package:
- Close the health insurance coverage gap: Since mid-March, more than one million North Carolinians have filed for unemployment as a result of COVID-19, and therefore, many have likely lost their employer-based health insurance coverage. Expand access and eligibility to Medicaid so North Carolinians can get the care and the treatment they need during this health crisis, and thus reduce the economic hardships faced by uninsured families.
- Close the chemotherapy gap: In North Carolina right now, oral chemotherapy costs a cancer patient more than traditional IV chemotherapy. N.C. is also currently only one of seven states that have not enacted a chemotherapy fairness law. Prioritize passage of North Carolina’s Oral Chemotherapy Fairness legislation (HB480) to ensure immunocompromised cancer patients can have access to oral chemotherapy in the safety of their homes when medically appropriate.
Media experts on N.C. legislative issues:
- Christine Weason, N.C. ACS CAN government relations director
- Dr. Karen Winkfield, radiation oncologist at Wake Forest Baptist Health
- Hananiel “Han” Setiawan, Duke University PhD student, N.C. ACS CAN volunteer who can speak to how critical Medicaid expansion was to him while living in the Michigan and why it’s needed now in N.C.
The web-based survey was taken by more than 1,200 cancer patients and survivors between April 30 and May 14. This sample provides a margin of error +/- 3% and 96% confidence level.
About ACS CAN
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) is making cancer a top priority for public officials and candidates at the federal, state and local levels. ACS CAN empowers advocates across the country to make their voices heard and influence evidence-based public policy change as well as legislative and regulatory solutions that will reduce the cancer burden. As the American Cancer Society’s nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate, ACS CAN is critical to the fight for a world without cancer. For more information, visit www.fightcancer.org.