Cancer patients' economic burden in 2019: 4 findings

Cancer patients in the U.S. spent $21.09 billion on care in 2019, according to an annual report published Oct. 26 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 

Of that $21.09 billion, $16.22 billion were out-of-pocket costs while patient time costs — a value that quantifies time spent on traveling, waiting and receiving care — totaled $4.87 billion, the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer found.

Three more findings: 

1. Out-of-pocket costs were highest for breast cancer patients totalling $3.14 billion in 2019, followed by prostate ($2.26 billion), colorectal ($1.46 billion), and lung ($1.35 billion) cancers. 

2. The average annualized net out-of-pocket costs for medical services and prescription drugs across all cancer sites among adults at least 65 years old who were insured through Medicare were highest during the 12 months before death, defined as the end-of-life phase. The average per patient was $3,823 for medical care and $448 for prescriptions. 

3. Those figures were lowest at $466 for medical services and $127 for prescriptions for patients in the continuing phase, or the months between the first 12 months after diagnosis (initial phase) and the end-of-life phase.

"As the costs of cancer treatment continue to rise, greater attention to addressing patient medical financial hardship, including difficulty paying medical bills, high levels of financial distress, and delaying care or forgoing care altogether because of cost, is warranted," said Karen Knudsen PhD, CEO of the American Cancer Society. 

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