6.20.16

For the one in every two or three U.S. residents managing a chronic disease, it’s likely no surprise to hear that financial harm to patients often extends far beyond physical condition to their wallets and bank accounts.

“Financial toxicity” is what experts call the combination of economic stress and accompanying depression and anxiety that burdens many cancer patients.

Researchers are increasingly taking interest, as patients are forced to assume an increasing amount of the costs of their care, and as research shows that the financial difficulties associated with a cancer diagnosis can lead people to avoid or delay treatment and can cause stress leading to mental and physical health issues.

A 2013 study at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, found that people diagnosed with cancer were more than twice as likely to declare bankruptcy as those without cancer.

According to Scott Ramsey, an internist and economist who directs the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, the analysis provided the “strongest evidence we have between a disease and risk for several financial distress.” The institute aims to increase and improve cancer prevention, early detection and treatment to reduce both economic and human burdens of cancer.

Meanwhile, health insurance companies far and wide are attempting to increase their rates, including in Oregon and Idaho, even as they are shifting an increasing amount of the burden for medical care to consumers – and trying to shift patients with chronic conditions off of their plans.

As a result, helping patients to manage their health care costs is increasingly falling on nonprofit foundations, who have long provided financial assistance with co-pays and insurance premiums but are now increasingly important for patients with chronic disease.

At the same time, a recent study in Oregon suggests insurers aren’t just proposing higher rates for consumers. They are proposing to increase their profit margins and apparently overstating medical cost trends as justification for rate increases.

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