What’s the Financial Cost of Breast Cancer?

No one ever wants to hear the words "you have breast cancer," but the American Cancer Society estimates more than 266,000 Americans are likely to get that news in 2018. Part of what makes breast cancer such a fear-inducing diagnosis is the fact that it affects not just your physical health, but your financial well-being, too.

A recent report published by The Pink Fund, a Michigan-based national non-profit that provides financial assistance to breast cancer patients undergoing treatment, points to just how a big a financial impact having breast cancer can have. The survey found that 64 percent of people with breast cancer end up paying $5,000 or more out of pocket over the course of their treatment in medical-related expenses.

These expenses may include copay's, transportation to and from the hospital, meals out, parking at the hospital or even accommodations at out-of-town treatment centers – none of which are typically covered by insurance. 47 percent of women are using their retirement accounts to pay for out-of-pocket expenses and 26 percent are paying with their credit cards. And some can't make ends meet even with savings or credit; 41 percent of patients skipped medication or treatment to save money.

"It's a huge challenge," says Molly MacDonald, founder of the Pink Fund. She says the organization conducted the survey – which received 587 responses from 1,000 people surveyed – to get a sense of the scope of the financial burdens breast cancer patients may face. "We know anecdotally it's very challenging financially for patients, particularly with health care deductibles and copay's being so high for so many." She says this is layered on the fact that many people undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatments must scale back their hours or stop working altogether. "That lost income compounds the financial challenges for them," she says."

"We have a huge proportion of women being diagnosed under age 40. These women may be making decent money, but with college loans and a house payment, they're already struggling financially and stretched before a cancer diagnosis."

MacDonald suggests that planning for a health crisis should be on par with planning for retirement or saving for a vacation – it should just be part of your financial resiliency plan. She says taking out a disability insurance policy for yourself, either through your job or independently, is the first thing you should do, preferably when you're a young person who has no health problems. Having that safety net down the road if you need it may turn out to be a really helpful thing.

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