As of January, the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society estimated there were between 14.5 million and 19 million cancer survivors living in the United States. The Society estimates there will be an additional 1.6 million cases this year. With numbers like that, there’s a good chance some of your clients are struggling with a cancer diagnosis.
A report released at the end of September by the Washington National Institute for Wellness Solutions put the average monthly cost for cancer treatment at $712, not including lost income if patients have to stop working during treatment.
Furthermore, over a third of survey respondents said they needed more financial support during treatment. By comparison, 22% of cancer survivors said they needed more emotional support.
The Institute for Wellness Solutions is a research and consumer education program from insurer Washington National. The report, “Insights from Survivors: Managing the Personal, Emotional and Financial Impact of Cancer,” surveyed 400 people who were diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 25 and 65 and had been treated with radiation or chemotherapy in the past 10 years.
One element of financial support is cost avoidance, according to Barbara Stewart, president of Washington National. “There are insurance products that can help people avoid being in that situation” where they have to pay large costs out of pocket.
In addition to supplemental insurance products, “you have certain services that are often available to patients while they’re going through treatments,” Stewart told ThinkAdvisor on Monday. For example, respondents recommended the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge, Reach to Recovery and the Hope Club programs as services “to help in terms of providing lodging for the patient and caregiver when they’re receiving care at other location,” Stewart said. “This element of helping patients actually think about opportunities to reduce the financial burden” is an important factor in financial support.
She suggested patients try to work with their health care provider to make regular payments over time instead of trying to cover a huge fee in a single payment.
“One of the things that every patient should pursue is a discussion with their hospital related to the opportunity for no-interest loans,” Stewart said. “It behooves all hospitals to be able to be paid at some point. They recognize, especially when you’re walking in with a high-deductible health plan, that there’s a considerable expense that’s incurred immediately.”
Stewart added that it’s become increasingly common for hospitals try to establish a relationship with a bank to provide “a bridge to help people be able to provide some kind of payment up front, then carry the rest of the expense over a period, often up to two years.”
Almost 60% of respondents said they underestimated at least one financial aspect of their diagnosis, like lost income from missing work or uncovered out-of-pocket expenses, and two-thirds didn’t have enough household income to cover all their treatment expenses.
Nearly 40% of survivors were able to cover their treatment without incurring medical debt, but of those who weren’t so well-prepared, 30% have $10,000 or more in debt related to their health. Half of those have at least $20,000 in debt.
Cancer hit younger survivors especially hard, the report found. Eighty percent of survivors who received their diagnosis under age 50 had to use at least one additional resource, like withdrawing money from personal savings or investment accounts, to cover out-of-pocket expenses.
As cancer advances, the cost increases as well. The report found survivors whose cancer reached stages three or four consistently faced higher-than-expected costs associated with lost income, lifestyle changes, hiring help with household responsibilities and traveling for treatment.