Study Shows Middle America Not Prepared for Cancer-Related Expenses

A new study conducted by the Washington National Institute for Wellness Solutions shows that the majority of middle-America's cancer survivors were not prepared for the cost associated with a cancer diagnosis.  In surveying 400 Americans between the ages of 25-65 at the time of diagnosis, two-thirds of respondents with a household income between $35,000-$100,000 did not have sufficient household income to cover the treatment-related expenses related to cancer therapies and incurred debt.  After treatment, 30% reported a debt of $15,000 or more and 15% reported a debt of $20,000 or more.  For those under the age of 50, they incurred more debt up towards $40,000.  

According to Barb Stewart, President of the Washington National, most middle-income Americans are not fully aware of their medical plans, such as deductibles and co-pays.  With cancer therapies becoming increasingly sophisticated and thus more costly, this results in a gap between what middle-income consumers can expect for coverage through their medical plan.  The average patient incurs about $720 in monthly bills that includes co-payments, prescription drugs and other cancer-related treatment, according to Stewart.

Stewart says that the American Cancer Society refers to the annual cost of cancer in the United States as $216 million.  She says it's not just the cost that's incurred with the therapy itself but also the non-medical expenses, such as needing a caregiver, transportation expenses or being out of work and don't have an income coming in.  

In planning ahead for retirement, it's important to consider all the healthcare costs in planning for the unexpected.  With cancer, Stewart says that women have a one in three incidence and men will have a one in two incidence during their lifetime in incurring cancer.  "The more that you can do to proactively plan ahead for options for coverage," the better and one of those options is supplemental health insurance, Stewart says.  This "spreads the risk of the that financial burden among all of the insurance population," she adds.  This allows the cancer patient to focus on their therapy, rather than be concerned about whether they can afford it.

Barb Stewart

Barb Stewart

While most people think cancer strikes as you get older, this study revealed that the younger people, those in the 20-40 range, incurred the most debt and when you're younger, you have less of those retirement funds to support yourself.  The good news, Stewart points out, is that the average 5-7 year survival rates are improving significantly to about 68% now, compared to less than 50% in the late seventies, according to the American Cancer Society.  

First and foremost, Stewart says you want to be proactive about your health to not only include visiting doctors and staying healthy, but also to understanding what your medical plan will cover and the extent to risk you have as it relates to co-pays and treatment costs.  Beyond that, you should start to look and plan ahead if a diagnosis does occur and be sure there is sufficient savings and the study revealed that over 50% of the respondents had less than $2000 in savings.  The last thing to look into is supplemental health as it relates to critical illnesses so that you can have a lump sum or indemnity benefit plan to provide coverage.  

Barb Stewart is the President of the Washington Institute for Wellness Solutions.  For more detailed information on this study, click here.  She spoke with Retirement News Today, providing online retirement news video content.  Retirement News Today is a featured network of Sequence Media Group.

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