Survey: Majority of Cancer Patients Struggle to Afford Cancer Care

Financial Strain Seen Across All Insurance Types; Often Drives Low-Income Patients’ Treatment Decisions

December 15, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The majority of cancer patients in the United States say they struggle to afford the costs of their cancer care.

According to the latest Survivor Views survey from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), 61% of cancer patients and survivors find it somewhat or very difficult to afford their care. The financial strain is felt across all individual, employer and public insurance types, including more than half (52%) of those on Medicare.

The strain is especially challenging for people with family incomes under $70,000 per year. More than half of this group says that cost is among the most important factors determining their care and roughly 1 in 8 of those with family incomes less than $35,000 a year say cost is the top factor. This group is also more likely to delay or skip filling a prescription to save money (34%) and are more apt to cut pills in half to reduce costs (18%).

Over 80% of patients say they’ve had to make financial sacrifices to cover their health care expenses, including 44% who’ve dipped into their savings, 36% who’ve gone into credit card debt to pay medical bills and nearly a quarter who say they did not schedule or cancelled an appointment or procedure because of cost.

“Patients need to be able to make decisions about their cancer treatment based on the best medical care for their diagnosis, not based on cost,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of ACS CAN.  “It is unacceptable that some patients have to choose between cancer treatment and paying rent or incurring huge amounts of debt. The evidence is clear lawmakers must pass policies that lessen cancer patients’ financial toxicity and improve equitable access to the services and treatments necessary to save more lives from this disease.”

Currently the U.S. Senate is considering several provisions in the Build Back Better Act that would alleviate some of the financial stress patients face. Those provisions include, extending increased subsidies for purchasing private insurance on the marketplace, providing access to affordable health coverage for more than two million people in a dozen states which have yet to expand Medicaid, capping Medicare enrollees’ out-of-pocket drug costs, and providing paid family and medical leave for those who need time off to undergo cancer treatment or care for a loved one with cancer.

“Congress is on the cusp of making significant improvements for cancer patients and their families. This data once again makes clear how much patients are relying on their lawmakers to do the right thing.  We call on all Senators to find a path forward and vote to enact key patient affordability provisions to ensure their constituents can access affordable, quality care without risking financial ruin,” said Lacasse.

The poll of 1,248 cancer patients and survivors was conducted October 22-November 19, 2021.

Read the full memo.

Media Contacts

Allison Miller
Director, Media Advocacy
Washington DC
Alissa Crispino
Vice President, Advocacy Communications & Policy
Washington, D.C.