Study: Cancer Patients 2.65 Times as Likely to Go Bankrupt

Cancer patients are more than twice as likely to go bankrupt than people without cancer, suggesting the need for healthcare providers to better assess patients' "financial health" and the need for more policy in helping cancer patients cover expenses in the first year after a diagnosis, according to a new study from Health Affairs.

Researchers based the study on people diagnosed with cancer from 1995 through 2009, excluding people under age 21 and over the age of 90. Researchers then matched each cancer patient with a noncancer counterpart from a database, ensuring a match between year of birth, ZIP code and sex. The study looked into two types of bankruptcy: Chapter 7, which typically involves liquidated assets to pay creditors, and Chapter 13, which involves a repayment plan to pay back all or a portion of their debts while retaining ownership for a majority of assets.

Of the study sample of 197,840 people diagnosed with cancer from 1995 and 2009, 2.2 percent of them filed for bankruptcy protection after their diagnosis — 83 percent of them under Chapter 7 and 17 percent under Chapter 13. Of the matched 197,840 controls who were not diagnosed with cancer, 1.1 percent filed for bankruptcy over the same time period — 73 percent of them under Chapter 7 and 27 percent under Chapter 13.

Compared to cancer patients who did not file for bankruptcy, those who did were more likely to be younger, female and nonwhite and to have a localized- or regional-stage disease at diagnosis, versus distant-stage. The localized stage is when cancer is limited to the organ in which it began, without evidence of spread; the regionalized stage is when cancer has spread beyond the primary site to nearby lymph nodes or tissues and organs.

Younger people with cancer experienced the highest bankruptcy rates across all cancer types. The bankruptcy rates also appeared to vary across cancer types, with notably higher rates for patients with thyroid cancer.

"We believe that cancer care facilities and oncology practitioners should assess the financial health of their patients as a matter of course," study authors concluded. "More generally, this study underlines the importance for cancer care providers of carefully considering the use of services that have limited evidence of substantial benefit and potential high out-of-pocket costs."

More Articles on Cancer Care:

Study: Medicare Cancer Spending Not Linked to Survival Rates
7 Ways to Improve the Affordability and Quality of Cancer Care
11 Trends in Hospitals' Cancer Programs

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