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Black Families Battling Cancer Look to Affordable Care Act as Last Hope In the Midst of Financial Struggles

low income families struggle to pay for cancer treatments Many studies have revealed that low-income families impacted by cancer are continuously falling through the cracks of America’s healthcare system.

For Black families, there is a unique set of circumstances that makes affording cancer treatment even more difficult, but the Affordable Care Act has emerged as a new hope for these families.

Black people have higher fatality rates from cancer even in forms of the disease that are more common among white people. 

“In 2007 the death rate for all cancers combined continued to be 32% higher in African American men and 16% higher in African American women than in white men and women, respectively,” a report by the American Cancer Society revealed.

It’s a pattern that is a direct reflection of a healthcare system that is leaving middle- to low-income families struggling to survive as medical costs rise. It’s also the reason so many families are hopeful that the latest wave of healthcare reform could save the lives of many cancer patients.

“Because cancer treatment can be very expensive and because patients and survivors often need long-term treatment and monitoring, they are among those who are likely to have difficulties navigating the U.S. health insurance system,” a 2009 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the American Cancer Society explained.

The report outlined serious problems with the health insurance systems such as “high cost-sharing and caps on benefits and lifetime maximums” that leave cancer patients at risk for high out-of-pocket healthcare costs, lack of protections against high healthcare costs if the person becomes too ill to work and premiums that are difficult for many low-income families to afford.

A 2010 report entitled “Families Affected by Cancer in Health Care System” revealed that four in ten families impacted by cancer had difficulties affording healthcare costs, which included prescription medications, medical bills and co-payments.

When it comes down to it, many middle- to low-income families would struggle to pay for cancer treatments even on their current salary, but many are also forced to quit working after being diagnosed.

This adds an additional burden on the patient and their families.

This occurrence is also more common among Black cancer patients.

A study published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship discovered that Black women are far more likely to quit working during the first two months of breast cancer treatment than their white counterparts. The reason for this trend is true across almost all other forms of cancer.

Researchers found a stark contrast between the amount of paid sick leave Black women were offered compared to white women.

Even more troubling was the fact that Black women were less likely to get employed after being diagnosed with cancer.

“At both the 2 and 9 month marks African-American women were significantly less likely to be employed than non-Hispanic whites,” the study reported as outlined by Living Beyond Breast Cancer.

In the midst of battling cancer, Black patients also have to battle systemic racism and employers who no longer believe they are capable of working.

It all paints a picture of a healthcare system that is failing many Americans, particularly members of the Black community.

“Tough economic times have magnified the barriers to quality, affordable healthcare that cancer patients and their loved ones have long faced, and they reinforce why the ‘sick care’ system fails Americans with life-threatening chronic diseases such as cancer,” said Dr. John R. Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, in a recent press release.

This is why Seffrin believes that the Affordable Care Act could be the saving grace for families battling cancer.

“The Affordable Care Act has the potential to effect meaningful reform for cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones by transforming the system to one that focuses on prevention and provides access to the full spectrum of coverage including prevention, evidence-based treatment and patient-centered care,” he added.

For the Black community, access to prevention-based care is an especially important part of healthcare reform.

Research conducted by the American Cancer Society revealed that many Black patients die from cancer because they are not diagnosed until later stages. Many Blacks aren’t diagnosed at early stages because they can’t afford the type of regular check-ups and treatments that could help prevent cancer or eliminate it earlier.

The American Cancer Society points out that even the Affordable Care Act won’t be “perfect” when it comes to helping cancer patients and their families fund high healthcare costs but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

“The Affordable Care Act is improving the quality and cost of healthcare in the United States for people with cancer and those at risk for cancer,” the study by the American Cancer Society explained. “The law is not perfect, but it will make healthcare more adequate, affordable, and available.”

It will do so by eliminating co-pays for proven preventive services, requiring all health plans sold in new health benefit exchanges to cover essential benefits like cancer screenings and follow-up care, increasing focus on treating pain and improving the overall quality of a patient’s life, prohibiting healthcare plans from placing lifetime caps on coverage and closing the Medicare “doughnut hole” so seniors don’t face a costly gap in prescription drug coverage.


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