Nearly 11 Million Cancer Patients Without Health Insurance
Worries about health insurance should not be high on the list of people who have cancer. Yet for the approximately 11 million cancer patients who are uninsured, it can be a nightmare. You can be sure this is one group of Americans that is keeping a close eye on the continuing debate about health insurance and health care reform.
Having health insurance does not guarantee cancer patients will get quality care or that they will not end up in financial ruin. A Harvard University study found that overwhelming medical expenses were involved in 50 percent of all bankruptcies, and that 68 percent of the people who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance. Why?
Some people cannot continue to afford large out-of-pocket costs to cover expensive cancer treatments, they may exceed the annual or lifetime caps on benefits, or they run into other limitations or exclusions in their health insurance policies. Lawmakers need to consider these hurdles to health care so Americans do not have to worry about losing their health insurance if they get cancer or other conditions that are expensive to treat.
A lack of affordable health insurance also has an impact on whether people get screened for cancer. According to a story in Centre Daily, people who have private insurance are more likely to get screened and thus get a diagnosis earlier in the course of the disease than people without health insurance. Cancer patients who have no insurance or who are covered by Medicaid when they were diagnosed are 60 percent more likely to die within five years than people who have private health insurance.
The Kaiser Family Foundation and the American Cancer Society have a report called Spending to Survive: Cancer Patients Confront Holes in the Health Insurance System. It contains stories of individuals who had health insurance when they were diagnosed with cancer. The trouble is, the insurance coverage stopped after patients ran into limitations, exclusions, and lifetime caps on benefits long before they had finished treatment.
The patients in the report are examples of what the 12 million cancer survivors in the United States may face. In fact, a recent US News & World Report article noted that more than 1 million of these individuals have had to pass up prescription drugs and other cancer treatment for financial reasons. These patients are fighting not only for their lives, they have to fight for their health insurance as well. And many are losing both battles.
Crafting a plan that will provide health insurance for all Americans is a monumental task. Lawmakers, insurance companies, drug manufacturers, and others who have influence and their hand in deciding the shape of Americans’ health insurance should listen carefully and with compassion to the concerns of cancer patients and other vulnerable citizens as they shape the health care reform plan.
Readers who want more information about how to handle the high costs of cancer care can visit the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The American Cancer Society has a website entitled “Health Insurance and Financial Assistance for the Cancer Patient.” Medicare also has a webpage that offers website addresses for some State Health Insurance Programs.
American Cancer Society
Centre Daily 8/6/09
US News & World Report 2/5/09