Patients with cancer and those who have recently completed treatment are finding it challenging to get necessary health care in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are experiencing financial stress trying to afford care in an increasingly difficult economic environment.
Delays in Care
According to the latest survey from Survivor Views—a national cohort of patients with cancer and survivors who complete surveys on a range of public policy issues important to the cancer community—half (51%) of all those surveyed reported some impact on their care due to the virus. Of those who’ve experienced an effect, nearly one in four report a delay in care or treatment. Among those one in four, the most common delays reported were for in-person provider appointments (50%); delayed access to imaging services to determine if a patient’s cancer had grown or returned (20%); access to supportive services, including physical therapy or mental health care (20%); and access to surgical procedures (8%).
Among just the respondents who remain in active treatment, more than a quarter (27%) report a delay in their care, and 13% say they don’t know when it will be rescheduled.
One-third of all patients say they’re worried about the impact COVID-19 will have on their ability to get care—a concern that is especially prevalent among patients in active treatment (40%).
“The health effects of this pandemic stretch well beyond those diagnosed and suffering from COVID-19 and are having an acute and adverse impact on [patients with] cancer, many of whom can’t afford treatment delays,” said Lisa Lacasse, President of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “Patients [witch cancer] are dealing with understandable, but in many cases, unsustainable delays in their care. This data shows the need for quick action in bolstering our health-care system so we can both care for those diagnosed with the virus and for those facing a cancer diagnosis.”
“The health effects of this pandemic stretch well beyond those diagnosed and suffering from COVID-19 and are having an acute and adverse impact on [patients with] cancer, many of whom can’t afford treatment delays...This data shows the need for quick action in bolstering our health-care system so we can both care for those diagnosed with the virus and for those facing a cancer diagnosis.”— Lisa Lacasse
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Like many across the country, patients with cancer are also feeling economic stress in the wake of the pandemic. Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) respondents say COVID-19 is having a notable effect on their ability to afford their care, due mostly to reduced work hours (14%).
Reduced work hours and lost jobs are of particular concern because these have the potential to impact access to health insurance. Of the respondents who reported that they or a family member living with them had lost a job, 43% had employer-sponsored coverage. Of those who reported they or a family member had their hours reduced, 58% percent had employer-sponsored health insurance.
While the economic stress is prevalent across all respondents, the concern is especially pronounced among patients with lower- and middle-class incomes. Nearly half of those earning $30,000 or less say they’re worried about affording their care (46%); more than a third (34%) of those earning up to $60,000 are worried and a quarter (25%) of those earning up to $110,000 are concerned.
“Patients and survivors are facing threats on multiple fronts right now, including the struggle to get and afford health care,” said Ms. Lacasse. “Now is the time for our lawmakers to do all they can to address and help alleviate these challenges.”
The Survivor Views survey was conducted using a web-based instrument sent to 3,055 cohort members and promoted to non-panelist respondents through email and social media promotion. The survey was taken by more than 1,200 patients with cancer and survivors between March 25 and April 8, 2020, and has a margin of error +/- 3% and 96% confidence level.
Cancer Groups Urge Action
More than 50 cancer groups are calling on Congress and the administration to take action to help patients with cancer gain, maintain, and afford health coverage during the ongoing pandemic.
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, along with ASCO, the Association of American Cancer Institutes, the Cancer Support Community, Friends of Cancer Research, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network®, led the effort to send letters to Congressional leadership and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar detailing several measures each could take to alleviate challenges for patients. Some of the changes include:
Other suggested changes involve ensuring health plans don’t needlessly punish patients for having to seek out-of-network care should their regular providers be closed or unavailable due to the pandemic, and promoting the use of telehealth.
“These changes would go a long way toward ensuring all patients—whether they have COVID-19 or another serious illness like cancer—can get and afford the care they need. We strongly urge Congress and the administration to consider these proposals and move quickly to enact them as they address this evolving crisis,” said Ms. Lacasse.
The full text of the letters and be read here: