Medical bills have long been considered a leading cause of
bankrupt case filings. Elizabeth Warren and her co-authors found medical
bills accounted for 65% of bankruptcies in 2007.
Now, a new study shows how devastating medical bills
involving cancer treatment can be. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research
Center, along with researchers at the University of Washington, conducted an analysis linking
federal bankruptcy court records to cancer registry data from nearly 232,000
adult cancer cases in western Washington during a 14-year period. The
study found a dramatic financial cost to survival: bankruptcy rates increase
along with the length of survival.
The study found that compared to the general population,
bankruptcy rates were nearly twice as high among cancer patients one year after
diagnosis, and FOUR TIMES as high within five years after diagnosis. The
median time to bankruptcy was two and a half years after diagnosis.
"Patients diagnosed with cancer may face significant financial stress due
to income loss and out-of-pocket costs associated with their treatment," said
Scott Ramsey, MD. Ph.D., who led the study.
This study, unlike most done in the past, linked two sets of
irrefutable government records of cancer and bankruptcy and determined
the risks of financial problems by cancer type, treatment and other
factors. The study linked Washington state cancer registry data with
federal bankruptcy court records in 13 western Washington counties. They
measured the rate of bankruptcy after a first cancer diagnosis and identified
factors that increased bankruptcy risk among people with common cancers.
The highest risk for financial problems is for lung, thyroid
and leukemia/lymphoma cancer patients. In contrast, patients over 65,
who are typically on Medicare, have a much lower risk of bankruptcy than
younger patients. The researchers also found that bankruptcy rates among cancer
patients have increased significantly since the U.S. financial crisis.
Can We Learn from This Study?
A cancer diagnosis is devastating, no matter what the
potential financial impact. Having money problems after the diagnosis
could almost be crippling. The fact that bankruptcy filings are 4 times
more likely for cancer patients demonstrates the
huge financial burden on them as well as on countless others who do
not actually file for bankruptcy. Remember this when a family member or
friend learns about a diagnosis. Your friends and family members may not ask
for help, but you can be sure that they will need some. Support them
emotionally and financially as best you can. If you sense
their bills are overwhelming them, support them and advise them on their options
to deal with the financial pinch, including government programs.
And don't forget that bankruptcy can provide some solid relief on medical
Read more articles about consumer debt by Ted Connolly,
co-author of The Road
Out of Debt
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