Cancer Care Costs Squeeze Millions of Americans

Even people who have health insurance can be bankrupted if they come down with cancer, says a new report from the American Cancer Society.

The Kaiser Family Foundation and the American Cancer Society unveiled a new joint report today that outlined the serious financial consequences families face when a member is diagnosed with cancer. In addition to dire statistics and figures, the report featured the stories of 20 patients who have faced severe debt and other challenges in their struggle to get treatment for their disease.

Some lost their life savings; others lost their jobs. Some found it nearly impossible to find insurance to help them pay for the care they needed. And some had to file for bankruptcy.

John Seffrin, the national chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, noted during the briefing that these stories, unfortunately, are all too common.

"Two million cancer survivors today are forgoing care they need simply because that care is unavailable because they cannot afford it," Seffrin said, adding that lack of access to quality care is now a major case of cancer death in the United States.

"This issue is not only a serious public health issue; it is a moral imperative for change."

Christy Schmidt, one of the report's authors and a cancer survivor, told that the report is even more frightening considering that all of those profiled had health insurance.

"Just because you're insured doesn't mean that you're not going to have... very, very serious financial problems," she said. "The very design of insurance policy itself can cause significant expenditures, even leading to bankruptcy or loss of home for some people."

"One in five people with cancer use up all or most of their savings, and those are people who have insurance."

Losing Your Home to Cancer Costs

Anna Nunes of Lake in the Hills, Ill., is not one of the 20 patients whose story appears in the report. But she is among the millions of Americans who have suffered financial problems after recovering from cancer. She and her family lost their home in nearby Crystal Lake after she was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer two years ago.

She was diagnosed in July 2007 and had her first surgery -- mastectomy and reconstructive surgery -- in October of that year. Despite coverage through her husband's job, she was unable to keep up with the bills.

"As much as I knew that we were probably going to lose our house... it just got to the point where there was no recovery," she said of the cost of treatment. "I just figured at this point, it's just money and it's just a house. It doesn't really matter where we live as long as we're all together and healthy."

Nunes had what she hopes is her last surgery -- for reconstruction -- last week. But she said she considers herself luckier than most cancer survivors.

"It was actually caught very early. I was lucky that I didn't have to go through any chemo or radiation."

Fortunately, Nunes' apartment, where she lives with her husband, a postal worker, and their two teenage daughters, is only half a mile from their old home, so the daughters attend the same schools. A real estate agent before cancer, Nunes still works in that field part time, also working part time in retail.

But she said the financial situation after she began receiving treatment was overwhelming.

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