Oncology Rounds

Groceries or cancer treatment? Survey reveals patients' financial struggles.

by Deirdre Saulet

To help pay for their care, cancer patients turn to a number of strategies that alter their care, such as not filling prescriptions, or their lifestyle, such as cutting back on groceries. Unfortunately, many of these strategies can significantly impact their outcomes and quality of life.

CancerCare recently conducted a patient survey that found a significant percentage of patients experience financial distress and adopt these behaviors. Keep reading to get key takeaways and how your program can help meet patients’ financial needs.

Majority of young cancer patients experience financial distress

CancerCare’s 2016 Patient Access and Engagement Report asked over 500 patients and survivors about the financial impact of their disease. When asked to calculate their average out-of-pocket treatment-related costs, respondents under 65 reported costs of $1,112 per month—about twice as much as patients 65 and older. And while 58% of younger respondents (ages 25-54) said they experienced financial distress during cancer treatment, 25% said that their medical team never considered their financial situation during treatment planning and 34% said it was only “sometimes” considered.

Costs significantly impact younger patients’ adherence to recommended treatment

A major concern is that patients who are financially distressed may take steps to reduce their expenses that ultimately jeopardize their outcomes and overall well being. As shown in the graph below, younger patients frequently adopt care-altering strategies, such as delaying or skipping doctor’s appointments or psychological counseling.

Patients frequently change lifestyle to offset cancer costs

Patients also reported changing their lifestyle habits to manage the costs of their treatment. Again, younger patients were far more likely than older patients to take such steps. For instance, over 40% cut back on non-essential expenses, one-third cut back on essentials, such as groceries and clothing, and nearly 20% missed paying their rent or mortgage.

Find ways to prevent financial toxicity

For cancer providers, these results underscore the importance of proactively identifying and managing patients’ financial concerns through:

  • Enrolling eligible patients in new or improved coverage
  • Screening patient eligibility for financial assistance
  • Educating patients about their health benefits and out-of-pocket costs up front
  • Screening patients regularly for financial distress

Join me at the ACCC Financial Advocacy Workshops this summer and fall to connect with colleagues, learn from experts in the field, and take home actionable practices.

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