TACOMA—June 1, 2020— 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). "Health practitioners continue to work to balance safety for an immunocompromised population at increased risk for contracting COVID with timely treatment to prevent the spread of cancer. Unfortunately, this results in delays in treatment for many cancer patients."
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. 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," said Lacasse.
That’s why ACS CAN in Washington is urging Health and Human Services to waive prior authorization for site-specific infusion centers and loosen the rules for home infusion services so that cancer patients can continue to access their lifesaving therapies. With “stay at home” orders, many infusions centers have suspended services or have been unable to treat the same number of patients, forcing patients to get treatment at a different facility that has not been previously authorized by their insurance company.
"Now more than ever, when and where a cancer patient gets their treatment should be up to the individual and their provider, and not dictated by the authorization of an insurance company," said Matt Helder, ACS CAN Washington government relations director. "During this crisis, we’re urging HHS to suspend these rules for private insurance carriers. A cancer diagnosis already comes with enough stress and uncertainty and patients shouldn’t have to worry about where to access their treatments."
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.
For more information visit www.fightcancer.org/covidfindings.
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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.