Even those with strong insurance plans find that cancer treatments put them in deep debt.
A study released Tuesday by the Washington National Institute for Wellness Solutions found that about two-thirds (65%) of cancer survivors – most of whom had health insurance – did not have enough family income to cover treatment-related expenses. In an attempt to pay these fees, more than half dipped into their personal savings or investments, 46% paid with credit cards and 15% borrowed from their 401(k) accounts or family and friends.
Treatments have become so expensive that more than six in 10 (62%) cancer survivors have reported medical debt after their cancer treatment, with 52% reporting having incurred medical debt of $5,000 or more and 30% reporting a debt of $10,000 or more. (These numbers don’t even take into account debt accrued for non-treatment-related expenses, such as travel to chemotherapy appointments or hiring someone to, say, help the sick person at home. or caring for children.) The bottom line: About a third of cancer survivors said they were less financially secure after treatment than before.
Young people in particular are financially scarred by cancer. Eight in 10 cancer survivors diagnosed before the age of 50 had to use at least one additional financial resource other than their income to pay for treatments, compared to 61% of those who were diagnosed between the ages of 50 and 65. The survey interviewed 400 Americans aged 25. age 65 with a household income between $35,000 and $100,000 and who had been diagnosed with cancer within the past 10 years.
The biggest problem here is the exorbitant cost of cancer treatment, even for those with medical insurance. The costs for people with cancer who had health insurance were more than $700 per month, which can easily reach tens of thousands during processing; this includes things like insurance premiums, co-payments, medications, doctor visits, lost wages, and travel to appointments. And a 2011 study found that more than 13% of cancer patients end up spending more than 20% of their income on cancer treatments and insurance premiums.
Additionally, many of the expenses that cancer survivors face are much higher than they expected. At least 57% of cancer survivors noted that at least one financial aspect of treatment cost more than expected, with lost income due to missed work being the top most surprising expense, followed closely by treatment not covered by insurance. And off-network processing can increase your costs exponentially.
Of course, it’s almost impossible to predict whether you’ll need money to pay for treatment for yourself or for a family member with cancer or another serious illness, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan this event, experts say.
Here are some steps you can take to help pay for — and minimize — the costs of a serious illness like cancer.
Stay on top of your health
Barbara Stewart, president of the Washington National Insurance Company, advises consumers to be proactive about their health. Be sure to eat a healthy diet and exercise, go to your annual doctor’s appointments, and see a doctor if anything is wrong. It’s usually much cheaper to treat cancer if you catch it early: 72% of cancer survivors who were diagnosed with stage III or IV cancer used at least one additional financial resource other than their income to pay for treatments, compared to 60% of those diagnosed with cancer. Stage 0 or I, the Washington National Institute for Wellness Solutions found.
Build an emergency fund and other savings
Stewart recommends that consumers set up an emergency fund that they can draw on in emergencies like these. Most experts say six to 12 months or more of living expenses should be set aside for emergencies like serious illness. And Carrie McLean, Director of Customer Service at eHealth.comrecommends that if you have a health savings account, you should save in it, as the account is both tax-efficient and renewable from year to year.
Investigate in advance what is covered
McLean says it’s important to review what your insurance company covers — and doesn’t cover — before treatment (if possible), so you can make other, less expensive plans if needed. Before going for treatment, call the hospital or clinic and get information about the type of treatment, who the doctors will be, etc.; Then call your insurance company and go over every detail to determine if it will all be covered and what your personal liability will be. If other arrangements are needed (i.e. another doctor or another place of treatment), you can make these changes if you wish.