BREAST CANCER: BCNA are taking action to help reduce cost of diagnosis.
BREAST CANCER: BCNA are taking action to help reduce cost of diagnosis. ThinkStock

Breast cancer diagnosis cost an unwelcome side effect

THE financial impact of a breast cancer diagnosis on a patient and her family is significant.

It can cost a hefty $21,000 in the five years after diagnosis Deloitte Access Economics researchers have found after surveying 2000 women for Breast Cancer Network Australia.

The research report highlighted the disparity across the country in the out-of-pocket costs women face following a diagnosis.

  • While 12% of the surveyed women reported no out-of-pocket costs, 25% reported costs of more than $17,200.
  • The total costs for women with private health insurance were higher than for women without.
  • One quarter of privately insured women reported out-of-pocket costs greater than $21,000.

Not included in these figures are lost wages where a woman takes time off work or reduces her hours because of treatment.

The report will assist BCNA in its future advocacy work chief executive officer Christine Nolan said.

"For nearly 20 years BCNA has heard from our members about the out-of-pocket costs they face for their breast cancer treatment and care - and the stress and worry this adds to a situation that is already stressful enough," Ms Nolan said.

"Our report has confirmed that breast cancer can have a significant financial impact on women and their families, which can last many years after the initial diagnosis.

"The report includes 14 recommendations that will help to reduce the out-of-pocket costs for Australians diagnosed with breast cancer.

"We hope that private health insurance companies, government and health service providers will consider our recommendations and work together to reduce the financial impact on Australians with breast cancer," she added.

The recommendations are -

Private health insurance companies

1. Increase the number of practitioners with whom they have a 'no gap' arrangement to allow for greater choice in treating doctor and fewer 'gap' payments.

2. Better promote their lists of 'no gap' providers.

3. Payment to policyholders of a $5000 trauma insurance benefit to help cover out-of-pocket costs. This one-off payment to be in addition to the normal fund rebates paid for treatment and care.

Government

4. Centrelink to provide specialist chronic illness liaison officers to help people with cancer (and other chronic illnesses) navigate the various entitlements and benefits that are available to assist them.

5. Medicare rebates increased to reflect the cost of providing services to reduce the out-of-pocket costs faced by patients. In particular, breast MRI and DXA bone mineral density scans are rebated by Medicare as these are tests commonly used in treatment and care of breast cancer.

6. Implement changes to enable radiotherapy services to be covered by private health insurance.

7. State and territory patient assisted travel schemes updated to reflect the real cost of travelling away from home for cancer treatment and follow-up.

8. Free parking at hospitals for people with cancer.

9. A metastatic cancer card introduced to acknowledge the additional financial burden people with metastatic disease face. This card could be similar to the pension or Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) card to allow services to be provided at a discounted rate.

10. PBS approval processes for new cancer drugs reviewed to ensure that Australians can access medications in a timely and affordable way.

Health service providers

11. Provide patients having treatment in the private health system with comprehensive written information about all out-of-pocket costs of any proposed procedures prior to those procedures taking place to improve transparency and avoid 'bill shock'.

12. Advise patients they are entitled to a second opinion on the costs of treatment quoted to them.

BCNA

13. Provide people with information about their rights in the workplace. Employers are made aware of their responsibilities to staff while they are undergoing treatment and afterwards.

14. High-quality and appropriate financial advice is provided at the time of diagnosis. This advice should be sensitive to a person's age, acknowledging that young people may not have accumulated resources, and whether a person's breast cancer is early or metastatic. This advice should also explore insurance and superannuation options and involve referral as necessary to services that can help people make their claims.

Consumer finance specialist, BCNA board member and breast cancer survivor Lisa Montgomery said it is important to acknowledge how a sudden change in someone's financial situation can have a significant impact on their wellbeing.

"If you're a younger woman and less well established financially, you might not have a lot of savings or a lot of equity in your home," Ms Montgomery said.

"If you're not in a relationship then there is no second income to help support you.

"On the other hand, women who are diagnosed later in life may be retired and living on a fixed income that doesn't allow for the cost of breast cancer treatment.

"Recent research into financial resilience in Australia shows that almost 65% of Australians are facing some level of financial stress and vulnerability.

"Half have two months or less of their usual wage in savings, and 10% have no savings at all.

"Our report highlights the varying situations women can find themselves in when they are diagnosed with breast cancer and some of the stories are really distressing," she added.


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