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Cancer Patients More Likely to File for Bankruptcy

Update Date: May 16, 2013 11:20 AM EDT

Despite attempting to improve the United States' health care, medical care and treatments are still burdening the finances of patients. Doctors joined together late last month to publish a letter denouncing the costs of cancer treatments within this nation, calling for pharmaceutical companies to find ways of lowering their prices. Despite these attempts to make prices more reasonable for the average American, nothing has been done to help with the financial burdens of these patients. In a new study, researchers reiterated the issue of the monetary costs of cancer. This study found that people who have been diagnosed with cancer are nearly three times more likely to file for bankruptcy, a finding that might not be a surprised to anyone.

The study, co-authored by Catherine Fedorenko and Karma Kreizenbeck and based in the state of Washington, evaluated the data of nearly 200,000 cancer patients. They found that two percent of the cancer patients filed for bankruptcy protection, which is double the one percent of people without cancer who filed for bankruptcy. The researchers used a randomly selected population of cancer-free people within the state that matched the age and gender requirements. Although this percentage is fairly low, the researchers stressed that their findings were significant because of the level of damage bankruptcy could cause on these patients.

"Bankruptcy is such an extreme measure of financial distress, and we didn't include the other forms of financial difficulties people encounter," Fedorenko, who is also the technical project coordinator at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, explained. The researchers believe that the added extra stress could be detrimental for cancer recovery.

The large population set that the researchers studied were at least 21-years-old and were residents of Washington State. The participants were diagnosed from cancer from 1995 to 2009 and their data came from a registry at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Researcher Center, which is a part of the U.S. National Cancer Institute epidemiology database. Aside from the percentage of people who filed for bankruptcy, the researchers presented several other statistics. They found that cancer patients were 2.65 times more likely to go bankrupt in comparison to cancer-free people. Of those cancer patients that end up choosing bankruptcy, they tend to be young, female and non-Caucasian. Younger people had a 10 times increased chance of filing for bankruptcy.

The researchers also found that certain types of cancers increased chances as well. For people suffering from thyroid and lung cancer, bankruptcy rates were significantly higher whereas these rates were lowest for people with melanoma, breast and prostate cancer.

The researchers looked into previous studies along with their analysis of the data compiled to get a better understanding of the financial toll that cancer treatment has on patients. In a 2004 study, the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the researchers found that 6.5 percent of the $20.1 billion that was spent on cancer care within that year comes directly out of the pockets of the patients. These patients were not on Medicare. A study done last year reported at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting found that four out of five patients reported to have suffered from mental stress from worrying about the potential enormity of the costs.

Despite the findings from this study, an expert stated that the study looked at people before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was implemented in 2010. Research in rates after the ACA, which was created to deal with bankruptcy rates, might indicate improved statistics.

These findings were published in Health Affairs

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