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Understanding the Cost of Care

Understanding the Cost of Care
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Published on March 9, 2020

This year, it is estimated that cancer care will cost approximately $207 billion in the United States, according to National Institutes of Health.1 Unfortunately, it is not always clear how a diagnosis will affect a patient’s financial situation, until you are in the middle of sorting out bills.  Along with side effects from cancer and its treatment, financial toxicity is a growing concern for patients and their families. Unexpected bills along with needed time off from work to see specialists, take tests and endure medical procedures, all take a toll on patients and their families. 

Even with health insurance coverage, out-of-pocket expenses for co-pays and medications quickly add up, and everyone is vulnerable to financial instability. One unintended consequence of cancer is deep debt, and for some patients, bankruptcy.

Approximately 42 percent of patients express having a significant financial burden. In this videofinancial expert Dan Sherman explains how people can take a proactive approach to decreasing the cost burden of cancer care by asking their medical team about the resources available to them.

End the Shame Spiral

What doctors do not want is for patients to skip their medications, but unless you ask for help financially, or mention the need for help, the doctor may not be aware. You may feel uncomfortable talking about the financial burden, but your medical team may have solutions and resources to get the help you need. Don’t assume that this only applies to patients below a certain tax bracket. Help with navigating the medical billing system is available to you. This video explains some of the ways patients can get help with medical bills. Patient Power also has a list of organizations that are at the ready to help you along the way.

Get Help With Medical Bills

Have you gotten a sky-high bill? You can send it to Kaiser Health News and possibly be selected for  a news piece they produce called Bill of the Month Club. Together with National Public Radio, they are soliciting medical bills from patients who have received outrageous bills. They select one per month to find out what’s behind the numbers. Hopefully, by continuing to raise awareness of the financial peril many patients face, meaningful change will take place and policies will be put in place to further protect patients from medical bankruptcy. 

Key Points on Cancer Costs

  • Ask about a financial navigator when you are diagnosed—don’t wait to find out what assistance is available.
  • Ask where your treatment will take place (for example, home versus hospital), because that can affect costs.
  • If your insurance company denies a payment claim, contact the pharmaceutical company that makes the therapy to see if they can help.

~Lauren Evoy Davis


  1. Mariotto AB, et al, Projections of the Cost of Cancer Care in the United States: 2010–2020. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2011; 103(2): 117–128. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.


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