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Understanding health insurance could affect other financial decisions for cancer survivors

Researchers have discovered an added financial burden linked to the disease

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Photo (c) Valeriya - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the American Cancer Society explored the financial implications that cancer survivors need to contend with and how health insurance plays a role. 

According to the researchers, struggling to understand health insurance policies or medical bills is rather common. In these instances, that stress can spill out into financial decisions that aren’t medical, as well as into other areas of life. 

“Growing evidence suggests that health insurance literacy is a nationwide problem in the United States, and is associated with adverse effects,” the researchers explained. 

Health insurance literacy

To better understand how health insurance literacy plays a role in cancer survivors’ day-to-day lives, the researchers conducted a survey of over 900 adult cancer survivors. 

The survey covered a wide variety of questions designed to gauge participants’ current financial status, including how confident they feel reading and understanding medical bills and other medical documents, to what extent their medical care has been compromised by that lack of knowledge, and how their daily habits are affected or have changed following treatment. 

Overall, nearly 19 percent of survivors under the age of 65 and over 14 percent of survivors over the age of 65 reported problems with health insurance literacy. The researchers learned that when survivors struggled to understand their medical bills, or had questions regarding their health insurance policies, they felt it in other areas of their lives. 

Survivors were more likely to make financial sacrifices in other areas of their lives -- such as dipping into their savings earlier than planned or changing their living situation -- when they struggled with understanding the full spectrum of their health insurance. 

The study also revealed that health insurance literacy problems contributed to higher instances of mental health concerns for cancer survivors. The researchers suggest that work be done in this area to help ease the financial burden associated with medical care. 

“Interventions such as financial and health insurance navigation, decision aids, and more user-friendly and easier-to-read medical bills, which improve patients’ understanding of health insurance and medical costs, could potentially be applied to improve health insurance literacy and benefit cancer survivors,” the researchers wrote. 

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