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Even with insurance, cancer patients face financial challenges

Many Long Islanders may have heard of studies showing that medical expenses are the leading factor behind personal bankruptcy filings in America. A new study takes that sobering statistic in a new direction. The study, published in the journal Health Affairs, found that Americans diagnosed with cancer were more than twice as likely as cancer-free Americans to file for Chapter 13 or other forms of bankruptcy protection. That held true even for patients with health insurance.

The problem for the insured, researchers said, is that insurance doesn’t cover all the expenses associated with a long course of treatment for cancer. For example, insurance may cover the expense of surgery, but not all the diagnostic tests. As a result, many Americans find out after they get sick that they have been underinsured.

Young people are most at risk from underinsurance, the study shows. Researchers found that a high rate of bankruptcy filings was associated most strongly with cancers such as thyroid cancer, which most often affects younger women. Bankruptcy was less common for those who had prostate cancer, which usually affects men later in life. Bankruptcy rates were lower still among those over 65, who may be eligible for Medicare and Social Security benefits.

With the Affordable Care Act coming into effect soon, some analysts expect that more people will be insured and therefore the number of health-related bankruptcy filings will fall. However, other analysts warn that the new system will not solve the problem of underinsurance.

Whatever the cause of a New Yorker’s financial challenges, Chapter 13 remains a powerful tool for getting out of debt. Those who file for Chapter 13 can establish a repayment plan to settle their debts in manageable payments. Unlike those who file for other types of bankruptcy, Chapter 13 filers generally can keep their homes, cars and other important belongings.

A diagnosis of cancer can be incredibly distressing, especially if the patient is unable to afford the necessary treatments. But by filing for bankruptcy, people facing overwhelming medical debt can climb out of their financial hole on their way to a brighter future.

Source: NBC News, “Cancer increases bankruptcy risk, even for insured,” Barbara Mantel, May 15, 2013

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