When I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my first thought was, “Am I going to survive this?” Sadly, not far behind was the thought, “How are we going to afford my treatments?” I was so afraid of sending my family into debt that I told my husband I was going to refuse chemotherapy. Nearly three years later, constant testing, medications and doctor appointments continue to be a financial strain on my family. These concerns are not at all unusual for people who have been diagnosed with cancer. Because Project Purple understands the financial stress a cancer diagnosis places upon a patient, we started our Patient Financial Aid program. This program helps patients who are struggling to pay bills so they can focus on their health instead of financial stress.
Rising Costs of Cancer Treatments
In recent years, the cost of cancer treatment has increased exponentially. The cost of medications used to treat cancer frequently runs in excess of $10,000.00 per month. At the same time, insurance companies continue to raise patient premiums, deductibles and co-pays. This creates a condition of ‘financial toxicity’ for many cancer patients. It is not uncommon for survivors to deplete their life savings, go into debt, remortgage their homes, or even declare bankruptcy.
Cancer Debt and Bankruptcy
Numerous studies of cancer patients show that well over a third of patients worry their cancer diagnosis will send them into substantial debt or even bankruptcy. In fact, a 2012 study of 4,719 working-age cancer survivors by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon found that one-third of the survivors had gone into debt because of cancer. In 55% of those cases, the debt was above $10,000. Three percent of the survivors actually had to file for bankruptcy. (http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/35/1/54.abstract?sid=0d27b4bc-c20a-4eb3-b979-82b61683c941) In fact, studies show cancer patients file for bankruptcy at a rate that is 2.65 times higher than adults who have not had cancer.
Bankruptcy and Mortality
Additionally, a study of 231,596 cancer patients in the Journal of Clinical Oncology by Dr. Scott Ramsey found that filing for bankruptcy was an increased risk factor for patient mortality. In fact, cancer patients who have filed for bankruptcy were 80% more likely to die in the follow-up period than those who did not suffer as dire economic consequences. This study looked at patients registered with the Western Washington SEER Cancer Registry and federal bankruptcy records for the region. (http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/early/2016/01/21/JCO.2015.64.6620.abstract)
While Dr. Ramsey’s study did not look too deeply at specific causes of death for each patient, the study revealed the deaths were not due to metastatic cancer. Instead, he speculates that the financial stress impacts patients in a couple of ways. First, they may not complete treatments or receive their treatments on time due to mounting bills. In addition, he believes the financial stress also takes a severe physical toll on patients. (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/857905#vp_2)
Insured Patients Experience Financial Difficulties
The cost of cancer treatments has soared in recent years. Patients worry about the expense of surgeries and hospital stays, but the cost of chemotherapy, radiation, testing and doctor appointments adds to the financial burden. Predictably, those who are uninsured or on public insurance plans definitely struggle with paying their medical bills. However, patients who are on private insurances often do not fare much better.
In one study of nearly 400 insured cancer patients, over 30% reported they are concerned about paying their medical bills and nearly a quarter of respondents said their family had made sacrifices in order to pay for treatment. (http://jop.ascopubs.org/content/9/5/251.full)
Costs of Pancreatic cancer
The costs of pancreatic cancer can be quite substantial, in large part due to hospitalizations for surgeries or procedures. A hospitalization for a surgery can easily cost in excess of $100,000. If a patient has a 10% co-pay, the bill for one hospitalization would be $10,000. In addition, many people who battle pancreatic cancer are unable to continue their normal work schedule and the reduced income can compound the stress of fighting a very deadly disease.
The impacts of the financial stress of paying for treatment following a cancer diagnosis are clearly numerous and wide-spread. Many patients find themselves in the position of having to make decisions no one should have to make: should I receive chemotherapy or pay my rent this month? Project Purple helps patients who face these scenarios by providing financial aid to qualifying patients.
project purple patient financial aid program
Our Patient Financial Aid program helps patients in a number of ways. The money goes to help cover medical bills, including co-pays. We help patients who are unable to work during treatment pay for living expenses, including rent/mortgage and utility bills. In addition, because it is so important for pancreatic cancer patients to receive care at high-volume pancreatic cancer centers, we help patients who otherwise could not afford to travel for their medical care.
While Project Purple helps fund many research projects, we recognize how important it is to help those who are currently battling a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Our hope is to help alleviate some economic worries so patients can simply focus on fighting their cancer.
No one should face a pancreatic cancer diagnosis on their own. If you are fighting pancreatic cancer and are facing mounting bills, please download Project Purple’s Patient Financial Aid form and submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We just may be able to help.