When Candace Henley was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in June 2003, her fear was tempered by the knowledge that she had good health insurance
through her job as a bus driver with the
Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).
At the time, Henley was 36 and raising
five daughters, ages 4 to 15, alone. She had
pulled off the American dream: a single-family home with a backyard. “We had a
great life,” she recalls. “We had great health
insurance. [Everything] was as perfect as
it could be.” Her problems began when she
didn’t have enough savings to stay afloat
financially after her cancer treatments left
her unable to work.
Every family that faces cancer experiences
the shock of learning that the disease is now
at their doorstep. But once the diagnosis is
made, paths can quickly diverge. The first
fork in the road: whether you have health
insurance and what type you have. The
second: whether you have savings to cover
deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses.
For some, the emotional distress and
day-to-day challenges of cancer will be
buffered by financial security. For others,
financial stress will make treatment more
rocky and complicated. For still others, the
last stop will be a depleted bank account,
the loss of a home or bankruptcy.
With efforts underway to modify or repeal
the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known
as Obamacare, many cancer patients have
spoken out about how affordable health
insurance kept them from financial ruin.
Magnifying their voices are the surveys
and studies that illustrate the devastating
monetary toll a cancer diagnosis can bring.
Researchers have attempted to capture
this distress with the term “financial toxicity,”
which places the effect of high treatment costs
on quality of life on an equal footing with the
toxicity of the treatments themselves.
Insurance Is Not Always Enough
Health insurance is supposed to act as a
safeguard against high, unexpected health
care costs. But that financial security blanket
has increasingly been fraying. Not only has
health insurance become more expensive, but
studies show more of the costs have been
transferred from employers to employees.
The 2017 Employer Health Benefits Survey,
released by the Kaiser Family Foundation/
Health Research & Education Trust, found that
the amount workers pay toward their family