Cancer Patients Struggling To Afford Care And Pay Bills In Troubled Economy, According To New Poll

A new poll illustrates the difficulty that cancer patients, survivors and their families face in affording needed health care and paying for other basic necessities such as food and heat, underscoring the need to strongly implement the Affordable Care Act so that it works for people with cancer.

The national nonpartisan poll of families affected by cancer finds that nearly half of cancer patients and survivors under age 65 have had difficulty paying for health care costs such as health insurance premiums, co-pays and prescription drugs in the past two years, and that one-third of those currently in active cancer treatment have put off some type of health care in the past year.

The survey, conducted for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), also found that families affected by cancer are having trouble affording non-medical bills, with 1 in 3 of those under age 65 struggling to pay for basic necessities, such as food, heat and housing, and other bills in the past two years, and 1 in 5 using up all or most of their savings during that time.

The survey found that 1 in 3 cancer patients or survivors under the age of 65 has been uninsured at some point since diagnosis, and nearly 1 in 5 families affected by cancer lost their insurance because a family member lost their job or their employer dropped coverage for reasons unrelated to the cancer diagnosis.

“Tough economic times have magnified the barriers to quality, affordable health care that cancer patients and their loved ones have long faced, and they reinforce why the ‘sick care’ system fails Americans with life-threatening chronic diseases such as cancer,” said John R. Seffrin, PhD, CEO of the American Cancer Society and its advocacy affiliate, ACS CAN.  “The Affordable Care Act has the potential to effect meaningful reform for cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones by transforming the system to one that focuses on prevention and provides access to the full spectrum of coverage including prevention, evidence-based treatment and patient-centered care.”

Research by the Society has shown that lack of access to care can lead to later stage diagnoses, and that people with private insurance have better chances of surviving cancer than people who are uninsured. Giving all Americans access to quality health care is critical to defeating cancer, which kills an estimated 565,000 people each year.  

While cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones are acutely aware of the gaps in the broken health care system, they are far less familiar with many of the provisions in the new law that will directly benefit them.  The survey found that 7 in 10 people with cancer or living with someone with cancer do not know that new insurance plans will be required to provide free cancer screenings, and 55 percent do not know that lifetime benefit limits will be banned.  More than half of respondents were not aware that prescription drug costs will be reduced in Medicare with the phase-out of the Part D “doughnut hole,” and nearly two-thirds were unaware that the law creates a high-risk pool for uninsured people with a pre-existing condition.  Once they discovered that the law covers these and other provisions, no fewer than 8 in 10 poll respondents supported each one.

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See a summary of the poll here