PhotoThe older you get, the more your risk of getting cancer goes up. But it you are counting on Medicare alone to pay for your treatment, a new study suggests you could be in for a rude financial shock.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center say their study shows that cancer patients on Medicare, but without a Medicare supplemental insurance policy, paid anywhere from a quarter to 63% of their income for treatment.

That's because Medicare only covers 80% of costs. And unlike many private insurance plans, there is no cap on out-of-pocket expenses. In addition to their Medicare premiums, the researchers found consumers without a supplemental policy were hit with out-of-pocket costs ranging from $2,116 to $8,115 a year to treat cancer.

The researchers say cancer treatment contributes more to health care costs in the United States than treatment for any other disease, largely driven by hospitalization.

“The spending associated with a new cancer diagnosis gets very high quickly, even if you have insurance,” said Lauren Hersch Nicholas, one of the study's authors.

Financial consequences often not discussed

She says cancer treatments can be extremely expensive and that a lot of treatments are given without a discussion of the costs of the financial consequences.

“Cancer costs are high, and a significant segment of our seniors who don’t have adequate insurance coverage can be hit hard by this,” said Dr. Amol K.Narang, one of the researchers. “In addition to efforts aimed at lowering cancer costs, we need to think about how to offer our seniors better insurance coverage.”

While Medicare is offered by the U.S. government, supplemental policies – sometimes called Medigap coverage – are offered by private insurance companies like Humana and United Healthcare. It pays many of the costs that Medicare doesn't cover.

Because it only has to cover the 20% of costs not covered by Medicare, its monthly premiums are much less than a private healthcare policy designed to cover the entire amount. Your healthcare provider bills both Medicare and the supplemental policy provider at the same time, with the supplemental insurer picking up the costs that Medicare doesn't cover.

If you are on Medicare but don't have a supplemental policy, you can still get one. Open enrollment is underway until December 7. You can find more information at Medicare.gov.


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