New study says cancer survivors incur debt and have to tap alternate sources of income to pay for treatment

October 9, 2014

The average cancer survivor with insurance incurs $712 in monthly bills for physician copayments, prescription drugs and other expenses related to treatment, according to a new study from Washington National’s Institute for Wellness Solutions.

The average cancer survivor with insurance incurs $712 in monthly bills for physician copayments, prescription drugs and other expenses related to treatment, according to a new studyfrom Washington National’s Institute for Wellness Solutions.

The study surveyed 400 middle-income cancer survivors aged 25-65 on the personal, emotional, and financial impact of cancer. 

Nearly two-thirds of survivors reported having to tap alternate financial sources to pay for treatment including withdrawing money from personal savings or investment accounts (55%), using credit cards (46%) and reducing discretionary spending (41%).

Eight in ten survivors had no supplemental insurance at the time of their cancer treatment, while 7% had critical illness or cancer insurance and 9% had some other form of supplemental insurance.

Half of respondents reported that at least one financial aspect of treatment was more than expected, including lost income due to missed work and uncovered out-of-pocket expenses, while 24% said that uncovered out-of-pocket expenses were less than they expected.

Respondents were also 34% more likely to say they needed more financial support than to say they needed more emotional support.

The study included comments from respondents. “I wish that I had demanded quicker services and not waited on insurance-provided care. Eight months from diagnosis was wrong. I learned to be my best advocate and demand quick testing,” said one respondent.

Overall, 77% of respondents were satisfied with their treatment facility, with 66% receiving treatment at a local hospital or treatment center, and 26% at a regional specialized treatment center.

Six in ten survivors also reported accumulating some debt after treatment, with 30% reporting debt of $10,000 or more, and 15% reporting debt of $20,000 or more. Eleven percent of Stage III and Stage IV survivors under the age of 50 reported medical debt of $40,000 or more.

The cost of cancer care in the U.S. has been steadily rising and is estimated to be $127 billion annually, according to the National Cancer Institute.   By 2020, those costs are expected to jump 27% to $158 billion, and could go as high as $207 billion if newly developed tools for cancer diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up continue to be more expensive.

More than 1.6 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society. Nearly half will be in people younger than 65.

The study also surveyed survivors on changes in outlook and attitude. Nearly nine in ten survivors said the disease had had at least one lasting, positive impact on their life including better relationships with family, commitment to eating healthier, and increased spirituality.