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Medical Care Costs Hard for Young Cancer Survivors

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Young Cancer Survivors and Access to Care continued...

Both groups reported similar household incomes. About 20% of both the cancer survivors and adults in the general population reported not having insurance.

When researchers looked at two measures of health care access -- whether or not a person has a regular doctor and whether they had gone for a routine physical in the past year -- the two groups looked pretty similar. But when researchers asked if there was a time in the last 12 months when a person had needed to see a doctor but couldn’t because of cost, 67% more cancer survivors answered yes.

“This was surprising because survivors look like they have health insurance coverage at the same levels as the general population,” says researcher Anne Kirchhoff, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City. “It seems like they may need additional resource support beyond health insurance coverage.”

Health Reforms May Not Address All Needs

Data for the study was gathered in 2009, before provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that impact young adults took effect.

Parents can now keep children on their insurance plans up to age 26. Many preventive tests are now free, which could help ease the cost burden on cancer survivors.

In 2014, the law will eliminate coverage limits and prevent insurance companies from denying people coverage because of preexisting conditions like cancer.

Because of those reforms, the picture for young cancer survivors is likely to look a lot brighter in the next few years, says Claire Brindis, DrPH, MPH. Brindis is the director of the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco. She was not involved in the research.

But even with the new round of health reforms in the ACA, it’s likely that some people will continue to struggle to get access to care, Brindis says.

“There are a number of personal consumer costs that have to be taken into account as barriers to seeking care,” she says -- things like transportation costs, child care, and the cost of taking time off from work.

“It’s a puzzle that has many layers,” she says, “and it’s not going to be solved overnight.”

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