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Many Cancer Patients Surprised by Out-of-Pocket Costs

by Paul-Martin Foss

A recent study by the Duke Cancer Institute has discovered that one-third of cancer patients end up paying more money out of pocket for their cancer treatments than they expected, even though they had health care coverage. These unexpected costs can lead to significant financial distress among cancer patients, which can contribute to increased mental and physical distress as well.

The study interviewed 300 cancer patients who had health insurance. Sixteen percent of the patients reported that they faced significant financial distress. Those who were most distressed spent about a third of their total household income on health care, not including health care premiums. Those patients who reported low financial distress spent an average of ten percent of their total household income on health care. Spending more than ten percent of household income on health care was considered to be “underinsured.”

Those patients who faced unexpected costs for treatment were less willing to continue paying for care, regardless of how burdened they were financially. This has ramifications for future cancer treatment and brings up the necessity of price transparency when purchasing and consuming health care.

The lack of price transparency is bad enough for people when they first choose to purchase health insurance, but the shock of having to endure unexpected costs which can run into several thousands of dollars can be a difficult hurdle to overcome. The confusion surrounding deductibles, maximum out-of-pocket expenses, etc. can impact the willingness of patients to continue treatment, with negative effects on their future health.

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