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Cancer’s New Side Effect - Bankruptcy--An Editorial

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There have previously been studies regarding the link between bankruptcy and cancer. For the most part, this information has been obtained from those willing to divulge their bankruptcy filing. For the first time, research has been done utilizing the government’s public records regarding bankruptcy filings and the tumor registry recordings of cancer.

According to Scott Ramsey, MD and PhD, who lead the study, “The risk of bankruptcy for cancer patients is not well known, and previous studies have relied on individual self-reports about medically related reasons for bankruptcy filing. By linking two irrefutable government records of cancer and bankruptcy, we are able to determine how financial insolvency risk varies by cancer type, treatment and other factors.”

Ramsey is a health care economist and an internist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He is also a member of the Hutchinson Center’s Public Health Sciences Division, which conducted the study linking the federal government’s court bankruptcy records in 13 counties in western Washington with the state’s cancer registry data.

The results show bankruptcy increases an astounding fourfold within the first five years after diagnosis. It is shown to double within the first two years. While medical debt is typically not something an individual enters into voluntarily, credit reporting agencies such as Experian, Equifax and Transunion, the top three credit reporting agencies, continue to include this debt on the patient’s personal credit report.

These results were just presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago. The study was conducted utilizing information from 232,000 adult cancer patients over a period of 14 years, and it revealed the length of survival correlated to the risk for insolvency.

Interestingly enough, those people on Medicare were less likely to be affected than younger individuals (also presumably with private or no insurance).

Other research has shown that the cost of cancer treatment in the United States has doubled over the past two decades. Many may presume this is the result of the high cost of new chemotherapy drugs or innovative new treatments. The study concluded, however, that the actual cause of the dramatic rise in cost was the increase in the number of cancer patients.

With FICO credit scores being utilized for just about everything these days—from obtaining a credit card to obtaining a job—Congress needs to look into modifying the current bankruptcy laws and take this new information into account. The longer a cancer patient survives, the more likely he or she is to becoming insolvent. Isn’t the pain a cancer patient must endure to survive enough of a punishment? Shouldn't a federal law designed to provide an individual with a fresh start be allowed to be used in such a way that it results in the opposite outcome?

If one has a perfect driving record, why should their auto insurance rates go through the roof because they now have a low FICO score resulting from a battle with cancer? It shouldn't. The road cancer patients must travel in order to survive is difficult enough. Should they continue to be penalized by the existing bankruptcy laws as the price for surviving cancer?

Perhaps when doctors are explaining the potential side effects of cancer treatments to patients, filing bankruptcy should now be included in that list.







Reviewed June 20, 2011
Edited by Kate Kunkel

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