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Cancer Treatment Costs – Most Doctors Don’t Discuss Them

medical debt

Who to talk to and questions to ask when you are faced with diagnosis

A new study says few doctors discuss cancer treatment costs when patients are newly diagnosed. When they do, doctors spend just two minutes talking about it in discussions that were often prompted by questions from the patients.

According to an Associated Press article, researchers recorded 529 visits with doctors and patients at three hospitals -- the Mayo Clinic, Los Angeles County Hospital and the University of Southern California’s Norris campus in Los Angeles.

Discussions about the financial burden of cancer treatments came up in just 151 of the visits, the article said. In 106 of those visits, patients asked questions about the cost. Doctors brought it up during the remaining 45 visits.

Faced with a new cancer diagnosis, it may come as no surprise that money isn’t the first thing on the mind of a patient and even a doctor. The cancer treatment costs, however, can have devastating financial impacts on families.

Cancer Treatment Costs are High

Cancer drugs and therapies can cost between $10,000 and $30,000 a month, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Even for patients with health insurance, the bills can add up. Patients with health insurance often must pick up 20 percent to 30 percent of the tab.

For many, it’s just too much. According to the clinical oncology society, 10 percent to 20 percent of cancer patients may not be taking prescribed treatments because of the cost -- putting their health in jeopardy. In fact, cancer patients are three times as likely to declare bankruptcy when compared to those without the illness.

Who Should You Discuss Treatment Costs With?

According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer patients and their family members should be aware of cancer treatment costs from the very beginning. That will require discussions with several groups who will be involved in your treatment. These include:

  • Doctors, who will be laying out your treatment plan and will be aware of alternative or less expensive options.
  • Hospital social workers, who have information about programs and groups that help cancer patients pay for treatments.
  • Your employer’s human resources department, who can explain your insurance plan and help you get more information about what is covered.
  • A benefits coordinator with your insurance company, who can review what’s covered. The cancer institute recommends asking your insurance company to assign you a case manager so you can talk to the same person when you have questions.
  • Hospital billing office employees, who can answer questions about bills that you may receive.

What Questions Should Patients Ask?

The American Cancer Society recommends starting with these seven questions:

  • How much will cancer treatment costs be?
  • Will my health insurance pay for this treatment? How much will I have to pay myself? You should ask this question for each treatment option, the cancer society says.
  • Where can I get an idea of the total cost of the treatment we’ve talked about?
  • If I can’t afford this treatment are there others that might cost less but will work as well?
  • Is there any way I can get help to pay for this treatment? The cancer society has tips for those who aren’t able to pay their medical bills.
  • Does my health insurance company need to pre-approve or pre-certify any part of the treatment before I start? The cancer society has more information about getting prior authorization for treatments.
  • Where will I get treatment – in the hospital, your office, a clinic or at home?

The cancer institute even has a financial conversation log so you can easily track your conversations and record the information that you’ve learned all in one place.

For anybody, a cancer diagnosis is devastating. Arming yourself up front with answers to your questions about cancer treatment costs can help keep your focus where it should be -- on getting better.

Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit committed to empowering and inspiring consumers nationwide to make wise financial decisions and live debt free. Speak with a certified counselor for a free debt analysis today.



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