The high cost of cancer

I’ve posted before about how expensive it is to be treated for cancer.

Recently, a patient posted on the health blog KevinMD about her experience dealing with not only the stress of metastatic ovarian cancer, but the struggle to stay afloat financially.

I am one of many people today “living” with cancer. I want to focus on the impact cancer has on my personal finances, and this is probably true for any chronic illness, not just cancer.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer at 51 years old. I really thought I was healthy.

First, you often have to give up your job. While undergoing chemo, most of us don’t have the energy for a full time job. And if you do keep working, there are all the appointments, scans and second opinion consultations, which make having a regular job difficult. Not to mention the scanxiety, as it’s been called, which makes it hard to concentrate on anything besides your health.

I’m sure many people who read this woman’s story can relate to it. Health care in general is costly, and cancer treatment especially so.

And with the current trend toward higher deductibles and co-pays, and the new generation of incredibly expensive cancer drugs, a cancer diagnosis will continue to be a hefty financial burden as well as an emotional one.

In 2014, virtually every new cancer-treatment drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration was priced at more than $120,000 a year, according to a new study. And the cost for each additional year lived by a patient as a result of new drugs soared from $54,000 in 1995 to $207,000 in 2013.

“There is no relief in sight because drug companies keep challenging the market with even higher prices,” the oncologists wrote. “This raises the question of whether current pricing of cancer drugs is based on reasonable expectation of return on investment or whether it is based on what prices the market can bear.”

You can argue that through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) more people have access to health insurance and its mandated drug coverage. That’s true. But as insurance companies are required to spend more to pay these drug prices, even if negotiated down to a slightly lower rate, they will compensate by increasing our premiums every year.

High drug prices—for many chronic diseases, not just cancer—have been skyrocketing in recent years and are considered a driving force behind many of the huge premium increases coming for 2016.

There are government programs and private charities that help cancer patients with drug costs and other expenses, but it is up to the patient to find them and determine if they qualify.

Search for State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs

Many programs are limited to people without insurance, or those on Medicare or Medicaid. Or the drug-assistance is for those with specific conditions, such as end-stage kidney disease or HIV.

It’s confusing and time consuming to do the research, and it won’t necessarily result in financial help.

Related post: Six resources to help cope with the high cost of cancer care

Anyone who thinks the cost of health care is going down in this country needs to think again, or perhaps read the above patient’s story, as it’s characteristic of many.

So I am running through my savings paying for my health, instead of my retirement. I’m trying to find some balance between spending to enjoy what time I have left and scrimping, just in case I get to stay awhile.

Sláinte,

Frugal Nurse

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