Nearly half (49%) of cancer patients and survivors report being burdened by medical debt alongside some (13%) who report expecting to incur medical debt as part of their treatment plan, according to a new Survivor Views survey by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). Interestingly, nearly all (98%) were insured when medical debt occurred.

Among those with cancer-related medical debt, nearly half (49%) have carried more than $5,000 in debt, a majority (69%) of whom have carried this debt for more than a year. Respondents also reported most commonly owing their medical debt to a hospital (76%).

“The findings present a grim picture where the burden of medical debt is a common occurrence following a cancer diagnosis – even amongst those who are insured,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of ACS CAN. “This shouldn’t be our nation’s reality. The data further reiterate the urgent need for Congress as well as state lawmakers to all work to enact policy solutions to reduce the massive impact of medical debt by both preventing it altogether and helping families who are already facing medical debt.”

The financial and health implications of medical debt for cancer patients and survivors are severe. According to the survey, an individual with cancer-related medical debt was three times more likely to be behind on recommended cancer screenings in comparison to those who have been able to pay for their care without accumulating debt. Nearly half (49%) saw their credit score decrease with 30% having difficulty qualifying for loans.

Cancer-related medical debt is also not felt equally and further deepens disparities. Black (13%) and Hispanic (14%) patients and survivors with medical debt were twice as likely as White respondents to report being denied care due to their debt. Black respondents were also more likely to report being contacted by collections agencies (66%) and to feel harassed by them (44%).

“The far-reaching impacts of medical debt on people’s health and well-being are especially worrisome,” added Lacasse. “As we continue to see state lawmakers across the nation step up to address the issue, it’s important our federal lawmakers also work toward advancing legislation that would be lifesaving for families touched by cancer no matter where they live.”

The data was discussed among policy experts in the field this morning as part of ACS CAN’s National Policy Forum in Washington, D.C. To watch a full recording of the event, click here.

The data was collected between March 18 and April 14, 2024. A total of 1,284 cohort participants responded to the survey. Differences reported between groups are tested for statistical significance at a 95% confidence interval.

ACS CAN’s Survivor Views research initiative was designed to support the organization’s efforts to end suffering and death from cancer through public policy advocacy. Data provided by cancer patients and survivors allows for a greater understanding of their experiences and opinions on cancer-related issues and gives voice to cancer patients and survivors in the shaping and advocating of public policies that help prevent, detect and treat cancer and promote a more positive quality of life for those impacted.

Read the full polling memo here.

This story was published by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network on May 9, 2024. It is republished with permission.