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Bankruptcy and Mortality: Is Your Debt Killing You?

March  02,  2016 in

The rising costs of cancer care can clearly affect the financial health of almost any patient.  But can it also affect one’s physical health?  A new study suggests that it can.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found a strong link between “financial toxicity” (the financial strain caused by a cancer diagnosis) and mortality.  As reported by Diane Mapes, the study finds that

“cancer patients who go bankrupt are nearly 80 percent more likely to die than patients who don’t.”

The study matched data from patients listed in the Western Washington SEER Cancer Registry with federal bankruptcy data.  Dr. Scott Ramsey, the lead author of the study, had previously demonstrated that cancer patients were more than two times as likely to declare bankruptcy than individuals without cancer.  In this follow-up, the impact of that bankruptcy is measurable.

“It varies from cancer to cancer,” Dr. Ramsey stated, “but for those who are in a bankruptcy situation – and about 3 percent of cancer patients go bankrupt – the risk of dying is just very, very high.”

In particular, mortality rates increased significantly for patients with lung, colon, prostate or breast cancer if they filed for bankruptcy.  While the reasons for the increase can’t be made certain, Dr. Ramsey cited both stress and avoidance of treatment (for financial reasons) as potential causes.

Dr. Ramsey clearly calls for the medical community to respond to the data seriously.  “A lot of providers don’t want to deal with financial issues or don’t have enough information to do so.  But if physicians aren’t attending to the financial consequences of their decisions and it’s putting a portion of their patients into bankruptcy?  This paper suggests it’s directly harming patients…(it’s) killing them.”

The full study can be read here.

Experiencing financial stress is a huge impediment to treatment and recovery.  An important first step after a cancer diagnosis is to do a complete financial assessment.  It may seem easy to put off with so much happening with your medical condition, but understanding your assets and the costs that are to come will benefit you in the months ahead.

And before you declare bankruptcy, don’t forget to list your life insurance as a potential asset!  Fifth Season Financial’s FLAG (Funds for Living And Giving) program is designed specifically to fight financial toxicity, providing patients with much-needed funds as advances from their life insurance policies.  The FLAG program not only provides funds without restrictions, but its formula also works to protect funds for beneficiaries as well.

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