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Cancer Treatment Costs Nearly Double

Costs Exceed $48 Billion, but Patients' Out-of-Pocket Payments Decrease, Study Finds
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

cancer_costs_have_doubled.jpg

May 10, 2010 -- The cost of treating cancer in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, according to a new analysis.

The analysis also found that outpatient care has become a trend and out-of-pocket costs to patients have declined.

Researchers from the CDC and other institutions looked at data from the 1987 National Medical Care Expenditure Survey and compared the information with data from the 2001 through 2005 Medical Expenditures Panel Survey. The report is published online in the journal Cancer, a journal of the American Cancer Society.

Among the findings:

  • The total medical cost of cancer in 1987 was $24.7 billion, expressed in 2007 dollars.
  • The total medical cost of cancer increased to $48.1 billion during 2001-2005.
  • The increase is the result of new cases in the aging population as well as an increase in the prevalence of cancer.
  • As a share of overall medical expenses, cancer costs remained fairly constant, accounting for about 5% each time period.
  • Outpatient care became more common, with the expenses for inpatient care for cancer falling from 64.4% to 27.5% of total cancer treatment costs.
  • The share of cancer costs paid for by private insurance increased from 42% to 50%, and the share of out-of-pocket costs fell from 17% to 8%. In 1987, Medicare paid for 33% of costs; by 2001-2005, it paid for 34%.

The researchers note limitations of the study, such as the tendency for cancer patients with advanced disease not to participate in surveys, which may translate to an underestimate of costs. The data don't include some information on the "true burden" of cancer, such as the nonmedical costs for child care, travel, caretakers, and lost productivity.

Even so, the data ''enhances our understanding of the burden of cancer on specific payers and how this burden may change as a result of healthcare reform measures or other changes to healthcare financing and delivery,'' the authors write.

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