In 2011 cancer-patient Janet Literski filed for bankruptcy, despite the fact she had health insurance and for as long as she could, had been working as an independent contractor. It started when she discovered her insurance only covered part of her surgical costs and none of the diagnostic tests. On top of this were the co-payments and the deductibles. Since she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkn’s lymphoma in 2008, her finances deteriorated with her health. By the time Literski was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years later, she was already $150,000 in medical debt.
Literski’s case is unfortunately not unique. According to a new study, cancer patients are at a greater risk of bankruptcy than those without cancer. Despite new health care laws and the 30 million people promised insurance, the high cost of cancer care pushes many patients into financial issues.
The study matched 197,840 adults from a western Washington cancer registry with an equal number of cancer-free adults by age, zip code and sex. Using court records, they then determined who had filed for bankruptcy. They discovered that overall, cancer patients were 2.5 times as likely as others to file for bankruptcy.
They found patients 65 or older, due to Medicare and social security, were least likely to file, and non-white females were most likely to file. The most vulnerable to financial distress were people who were in entry level jobs with few assets, individuals with lower incomes or those with no insurance. These typically young individuals were found to file for bankruptcy up to 10 times more frequently than older patients.
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