The money question: Financial worry can impact care

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A patient should be able to talk with his or her doctor about anything. Yet, many patients won’t bring up financial worries.

The new cancer drugs approved since 2014 costs more than $120,000 per year of treatment. Many patients may have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket, which could  mean depleting savings or retirement funds, cutting back on groceries, contemplating the sale of a home or filing for bankruptcy. Some patients who have health insurance when they are diagnosed may lose their coverage if they stop working during treatment.

The stress of paying for cancer care is a serious concern because it can impact quality of life, hamper a patient’s recovery or lead him or her to skip treatment altogether.

When cancer patients are queried on their level of general distress, and up to 40 percent list financial stress as a contributor, says Andrew Burgdorf, a clinical pharmacist at Upstate.

“Patients have to be able to talk about financial concerns with their doctor or their provider without fear of compromising their care,” Burgdorf says. If their caregiver doesn’t bring it up, patients can broach the topic by simply saying: I’m having trouble paying for my medications.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network has created a method of rating cancer drugs on their affordability, in combination with evaluations of a drug’s effectiveness and toxicity. The network’s guidelines are being updated and are available for doctors to share with their patients while discussing treatment options.

In addition, Burgdorf points out that many pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs including co-pay assistance. Also, a variety of charitable organizations have programs to help people pay for treatment such as needymeds.org.

Layout 1This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.

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