New analysis has found that up to 1 in 2 Australian cancer survivors experience financial stress – prompting calls from Cancer Council Australia for greater transparency from healthcare providers to help patients anticipate costs and weigh up their options, as well as better targeting of financial assistance.
A review of the latest evidence on the “Cost of Cancer Care to the Patient” is featured in the July edition of Cancer Forum, published by Cancer Council Australia and the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia.
The evidence shows that cancer patients typically pay around 15 per cent of the total lifetime cost of cancer care. Common out-of-pocket costs include specialist and GP gap payments, scans and tests, hospital stays, medical devices, travel and accommodation, parking, prescription and over-the-counter medication. Additionally, people with cancer and their carers often experience a reduced ability to work, worsening the financial strain.
Professor Sanchia Aranda, CEO, Cancer Council Australia said the increased out-of-pocket costs contributed to the already severe physical and psychological costs faced by cancer patients and their carers. Moreover, financial distress often influenced decisions about treatment. For example, people living outside major cities were 17 times more likely to report financial barriers to cancer care which could result in poorer clinical outcomes.
“One study found that 19 per cent of patients said that cost-related factors influenced their decisions about treatment,” Professor Aranda said. “We also know that around 12 per cent of patients use cost-saving strategies including over-the-counter rather than prescribed medicine; using medicines from home rather than filling a new prescription; or using medication from someone else as a substitute. People shouldn’t have to risk compromising their care because of their capacity to pay for treatment.”
Professor Aranda has called for greater transparency in the disclosure of all costs related to cancer care, to guide informed decisions and help ease accumulated financial burden.
“Patients often find out that treatment is more costly than expected. They also pay for higher-cost treatments that provide no significant benefit compared with more affordable alternatives. It is paramount that healthcare professionals disclose all costs and treatment options to their patients, including whether there are alternatives that offer similar benefits at a lower price.”
Professor Aranda said Australia had a good health system by international standards, yet too many people were at risk of experiencing inequities associated with their capacity to afford adequate care.
“As our population ages and cost pressures increase, major health system reform is inevitable,” she said. “Government assistance should be targeted to those with the greatest need to help ensure that a good cancer outcome is not a function of individual wealth.
“The analysis in Cancer Forum could just be the tip of the iceberg. Wherever the health system reform agenda goes, the needs of patients at risk of a poor outcome because of their capacity to pay has to be the priority.
Professor Aranda said organisations like Cancer Council could provide emotional, practical and some financial assistance, but it was a matter for government to ensure that subsidised health services were targeted to those most in need.
Australians who have been diagnosed with cancer and their carers can contact Cancer Council on 13 11 20 to find out more about support and information services, including practical support and access to financial planning.
Source: Cancer Council Australia