Monday 26 September 2016

Revealed: Cancer is costing sufferers up to €1,200 a month

Some patients see income drop by €20,000 in a year

Published 05/10/2015 | 02:30

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Cancer patients are struggling with bills of up to €1,200 a month, due to a range of hidden costs linked to their illness.

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The financial burden is laid bare for the first time in a new report, showing the staggering burden faced by patients whose outgoings soar at the time when they should be concentrating on treatment and recovery.

The shocking figure covers a host of basic necessities, including drugs, doctors' charges, hospital parking, home-heating, travel and childcare costs.

But these are separate to the drop in income that a patient who is employed can suffer - up to €1,400 a month.

The economic strain has been revealed in a report, 'The Real Cost of Cancer', from the Irish Cancer Society. The research was carried out by Millward Brown.

It found that most of the costs were not covered by health insurance, a medical card or social welfare and revealed that:

  • More than half of cancer patients are spending €155 a month on medication, some of which they need to alleviate the side-effects of treatment. They are having to purchase over-the-counter drugs which are not covered by the medical card or the Drugs Payment Scheme.
  • Monthly outgoings can see the cost of a hospital stay mount up to €482, while GP visits cost another €88 and specialists' fees €144.
  • Special dressings can be as high as €95 and in extreme cases patients may have to travel abroad, paying out €2,000 to €9,000 for treatment.
  • The average cost of these medical expenses, which cannot be claimed, is in the region of €303 a month.
  • Cancer patients may face big bills for one-off expenses, such as a wig at €511. Special dental work for patients with mouth cancers can cost €653.
  • Some patients may need to modify their homes at a cost of €891 or buy specialist equipment at €215.
  • Basics, such as travelling to appointments, petrol, parking and eating in the hospital, can leave a patient €287 out of pocket every month.

One patient said: "When I was in hospital for 115 days, my wife came to visit me five days a week. It cost €1,035 for parking alone for that time. That is a lot of money."

One in five of those surveyed said they can spend €179 a month paying to stay overnight for an appointment, as well as childminding and babysitting.

Added to the bills is additional household spending, from home heating to more use of the phone. Many have to buy certain types of food and drinks.

Burden

These financial pressures are aggravated even further for many due to loss of income, with some having to leave their job, work fewer hours or look for other employment.

One-quarter of those in the survey who were working reduced their hours.

The report found that three in 10 reduced their salary by more than €20,000, with an average fall of more than €16,750 a year. This equates to some €1,400 a month.

One in five are now retired, compared to one in 10 at the time of diagnosis. Some 13pc are unemployed and the number working full-time dropped from 44pc to 29pc.

Commenting on the findings, Kathleen O'Meara, head of advocacy in the Irish Cancer Society, said: "Thanks to the courage of the many people who have shared their stories, we now know much more about the impact on them of being a cancer patient. But what has been less known has been the financial impact.

"One patient told us that for her the stress of managing the cost was greater than the stress of having cancer.

"This cannot be ignored. Cancer patients are receiving excellent care in our hospitals and more than ever are surviving cancer.

"However the very high financial burden must be alleviated. While we are not suggesting how this would be done, we would like this urgent and important issue addressed in the 2016-2025 national cancer strategy."

The research involved 409 people, with three-quarters of those who had cancer having been diagnosed in the past five years.

*****

Medical cards or private health insurance do not support many of the costs and expenses incurred by cancer patients.

One in 14 of those surveyed did not have a medical card or private health insurance, leaving them with "little or no financial support for their medical costs".

Nearly one in four of the cancer patients surveyed who applied for a medical card were turned down.

Three in five who responded to the survey had a medical card or GP card. Half of those with a medical card got one after their diagnosis.

Some 2pc had a GP visit card entitling them to free GP care and 57pc had a Drug Payment Scheme card which capped their prescribed medicines bills at €144 a month.

The report said "people from all walks of life are affected by the real cost of cancer".

One person, who was a nurse, had to apply three times before getting the card - having to pay high GP fees in the meantime.

In another case, a patient said: "I got the forms and the forms were so convoluted and complex I gave up. I did qualify for a drugs payment care.

"That was a blessing, thanks be to God, because there was a drug I need to take for three days after the chemotherapy and that cost €1,800 on top of steroids and anti-sickness tablets.

"We still had to pay €144 a month," they added.

Irish Independent

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