Atlanta, Georgia – April Donaldson, a 44-year-old mother of three and cancer patient, is among the millions of Americans facing the overwhelming financial burden of battling the disease. In the U.S., patients not only cope with the physical hardships of treatments and complications, but also grapple with the considerable costs of care that their insurance may not fully cover.
According to a 2022 article in JAMA Oncology, the term “financial toxicity” is used to describe the detrimental impact of high-cost treatments, particularly for cancer patients. The financial strain can lead to significant stress and affect the quality of life for patients and their families. The Commonwealth Fund’s report highlights the substantial expenses faced by cancer patients and individuals with other health conditions, which often result in high medical and drug costs, forcing many to make difficult decisions, such as cutting back on necessities like food and housing.
April Donaldson’s experience offers a personal and heartrending view of the financial toll of cancer. Despite having health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, she has still faced substantial medical bills after being diagnosed with Stage 2 triple-negative breast cancer in 2020. Donaldson’s treatments and surgeries have not only affected her physical health but have also taken a serious financial toll, leading to loss of income and significant debt.
The financial toxicity of cancer has also impacted April’s husband, who has been her primary caregiver. The stress of caring for April and their three boys ultimately led to his near-fatal heart attack in 2021, further compounding the family’s financial struggles.
Following her initial diagnosis, Donaldson underwent multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, experiencing the emotional and financial repercussions of her ongoing battle against cancer. The relentless financial burden was exacerbated by daunting medical costs, including bills of up to $17,000 per week for chemotherapy and additional expenses for immunotherapy and targeted therapy.
The high costs of cancer care in the United States are not only a financial burden, but also a matter of life and death. Along with the physical and emotional toll of battling cancer, the financial toxicity of care can lead to individuals forgoing necessary treatments or making life-altering decisions, such as selling their homes, to afford their medical expenses.
Health policy experts and insurers are being called upon to address the financial hardships faced by individuals battling high-cost conditions like cancer. Many argue that health plans should provide greater protection against the financial ruin associated with necessary care, focusing on closing loopholes to ensure that individuals are not financially devastated by their healthcare experiences. For patients like April Donaldson, addressing the financial toxicity of cancer care is a crucial step in ensuring that treatment is not only accessible but also financially sustainable for those in need.