Beyond the Headlines: U.S. Cancer Costs Double

"US Cancer Costs Double in Nearly 20 Years" was the headline of a recent Associated Press article. At first thought, it's easy to conclude that the major driver is expensive cancer treatment. Maybe not.

The article covered a new study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among the surprising findings:

     - Rising costs were driven by increasing numbers of cancer patients.

     - Costs from inpatient care dropped from 64 percent to 27 percent.

     - The percentage of total U.S. medical costs from cancer treatment remains at 5 percent, unchanged for decades.

 Among caveats for drawing conclusions:

     - Data doesn't include diagnostic tests and scans.

     - The study covers data between 1987 and 2005.

It's likely that the advent of very expensive cancer therapies and greater frequency of cancer screenings over the past five years are contributing to an ongoing rise in costs. Hopefully, this may continue to be offset somewhat by the shift to less expensive outpatient care.

The study also reminds us that demographics will play a significant role. The number of older Americans is increasing rapidly and they're living longer. With age comes the greater possibility of developing cancer.

When we study current costs, will we discover an even greater increase as we multiply a growing number of patients and increasingly more expensive treatment costs? Most likely.

Will cancer patients be able to afford treatment?

Between 1987 and 2005, the proportion of cancer costs paid by private health insurance rose from 42 to 50 percent while out-of-pocket costs fell from 17 percent to 8 percent. That finding was unexpected, but welcome news.

Did that trend continue between 2005 and 2010? Headlines about the increase in personal bankruptcies due to catastrophic medical costs would tell us otherwise.

We can't know for sure until we look beyond the headlines.

— Tom DeSanto

Source: Associated Press article by Mike Stobbe published by google news; Graphic: Tom DeSanto

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