When cancer is the diagnosis, even copayments can mount into the thousands of dollars quickly exposing families to “financial toxicity,” the name given to the money burdens that often lead to bankruptcy. An opinion piece in STAT by Scott D. Ramsey, MD, the director of the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, and Veena Shankaran, MD, a medical oncologist and associate member of the institute, outline the problem and possible solutions—or at least methods of working toward possible solutions. Hutchinson recently joined with Family Reach, a not-for-profit dedicated to helping alleviate cancer’s financial toxicity, and Tufts Medical Center in launching the Financial Treatment Project, as part of the cancer moonshot.
Financial toxicity seems to be connected to outcomes, as a recent study by Hutchinson finds that cancer patients who file for bankruptcy had a 79% higher mortality rate than patients with the same cancers, but without the financial burden. The problem will only get worse, as cancer diagnoses are expected to rise nearly 75% between now and 2030. It’s systemic, say Ramsey and Shankaran, resisting the temptation to blame a particular stakeholder.
“In reality, the problem appears to be quite complex,” they write. “Rapidly rising drug and hospital costs, relatively weak insurance coverage, uneven and inadequate sick leave policies of most employers, and the generally poor financial state of many families in the United States all contribute to the problem.”