Bankruptcy in Cancer Survivors

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, PhD
Published: Saturday, Feb 13, 2016
Matthew Banegas, PhD, MPH

Matthew Banegas, PhD, MPH

A new study conducted by researchers at Kaiser Permanente has found that a considerable number of working-age adults who survive cancer and its toxic treatments, end up with substantial medical debts or declare bankruptcy. The American Journal of Managed Care asked Matthew Banegas, PhD, MPH, a health services researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, and lead author on the study, to provide additional insight on the study results and any follow-up studies that may be conducted.

AJMC: Could you highlight some of the important findings of your study?

Matthew Banegas, PhD, MPH: We found that working-age cancer survivors— people 18 to 64 years old—often went into debt to pay for their cancer treatment. In fact about one-third incurred debt or had to borrow money, and one-tenth of those people who incurred debt or had to borrow money reported filing for bankruptcy. While there is data out there on financial hardship facing cancer survivors, this is one of the largest studies to focus on workingage cancer survivors, and it includes people from all 50 states.

Were there any results that stood out and were completely unexpected?

There is a growing body of evidence that indicates financial hardship from cancer is common. However, the finding that surprised me most was the magnitude of the debt. We found that among those working-age cancer survivors who incurred debt or had to borrow money, more than 55% had debt amounts of $10,000 dollars or more.

Could early interventions in the care pathway help? Who could possibly lead the intervention?

If people can identify sources of financial assistance and learn more information about the costs of care shortly after they are diagnosed, we may be able to prevent some occurrences of financial hardship. Too often, patients don’t find out about the costs of cancer care until after their treatment.

Individuals diagnosed with cancer should ask about financial counselors or social workers at their local health care facility. They can also reach out to foundations like Livestrong or the American Cancer Society to find out whether other local resources are available.

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