Losing Health Insurance Due to Job Interruption During Pandemic Could Jeopardize Cancer Care for Many Patients

July 26, 2020

The results of the most recent survey showed that 46% of patients have experienced a decline in their financial security and ability to pay for their care, and nearly 25% worry that they may lose their insurance as a result of the pandemic.

The impact of COVID-19 on our lives has been substantial. It is a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear for patients with cancer and those who love and care for them.

Increased awareness, practicing precautions such as social distancing, keeping our hands clean and wearing masks represent a few of the measures many of us are taking to stay well. Yet, even as we follow these new rules for preserving our health, we’re finding that other crucial protections have been compromised. We have seen a dramatic decline during the pandemic in hospital and outpatient visits for screening and nonurgent cancer care. The delay of these procedures has led experts to raise concerns that an increase in deaths from cancer may be part of our future. Potentially adding to that trend will be the loss of health insurance that has accompanied job termination for many during the pandemic. The reality is that, without insurance, cancer care is not affordable.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network recently completed surveys asking patients with cancer about the experiences and concerns they are confronting. The results of the most recent survey showed that 46% of patients have experienced a decline in their financial security and ability to pay for their care, and nearly 25% worry that they may lose their insurance as a result of the pandemic. Mental health is also affected: Because of the combined medical and financial stress, nearly half the respondents have perceived a major or moderate effect on their mental well-being.

These are not minor considerations. The reality is that most of us don’t have an effective safety net when it comes to paying medical bills. One day you are employed and have health insurance, and the next you are unemployed and worried about whether you can afford food and rent, let alone an insurance extension from your employer — if one is available. And let’s not forget that even with insurance, cancer care is expensive, far beyond the means of many of us.

The pandemic has taught us a lot. It has shown us the weaknesses in our system at many levels. We need solutions that will protect us in times of need. Options could include reopening insurance exchanges or providing help with paying premiums. Inevitably, some will argue that the time has come for us to rethink how we as a nation pay for health care.

No matter the solutions, I suspect we can all agree on one thing: No one should have to forgo cancer care, particularly during an infectious pandemic and an economic disaster, because they can’t afford it. If we can solve that dilemma, then perhaps something good will come out of a moment in time that has been so frightening for so many of us.


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