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In One State, Cancer Patients 2.65 Times Likelier to File for Bankruptcy


Bethesda, MD --A new study, being released today as a Web First by Health Affairs, finds that US cancer patients were 2.65 times more likely to file for bankruptcy than people without cancer. Based on data analysis of 197,840 cancer patients age 18 or older in the western district of Washington State between 1995 and 2009, the study found that 4,408 (2.2 percent) filed for bankruptcy protection after being diagnosed with cancer. Controlling for a variety of factors, the researchers studied another set of 197,840 people from that same region that did not have cancer and found only 2,291 (1.1 percent) among them had filed for bankruptcy.

The study also found that younger people with cancer experienced the highest bankruptcy rates across all cancer types and up to ten times the rate of bankruptcy filings than older age groups.

Washington State Cancer Patients Found To Be At Greater Risk For Bankruptcy Than People Without A Cancer Diagnosis


By Scott Ramsey, David Blough, Anne Kirchhoff, Karma Kreizenbeck, Catherine Fedorenko, Kyle Snell, Polly Newcomb, William Hollingworth, and Karen Overstreet


Ramsey, Kreizenbeck, Fedorenko, and Newcomb are affiliated with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington; Blough is at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna, New York; Kirchhoff is with the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City; Snell is at Crowdtap in New York City; Hollingworth is with the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom; and Overstreet is a judge in the federal Bankruptcy Court in Seattle.


The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, will also appear in the June issue of Health Affairs.


The researchers linked data from National Cancer Institute's SEER (Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results) program, the national LexisNexis repository, and the bankruptcy database of the US Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington. "Although the risk of bankruptcy for cancer patients is relatively low in absolute terms, bankruptcy represents an extreme manifestation of what is probably a larger picture of economic hardship for cancer patients," conclude the authors. "As a policy issue, there may be a role for employers and governments in creating programs or incentives to reduce the likelihood of financial insolvency, given that bankruptcies are 'lose-lose' events for debtors and creditors alike."

About Health Affairs

Health Affairs is the leading journal at the intersection of health, health care, and policy. Published by Project HOPE, the peer-reviewed journal appears each month in print, with additional Web First papers published periodically at The full text of each Health Affairs Web First paper is available free of charge to all website visitors for a one-week period following posting, after which it switches to pay-per-view for nonsubscribers. Web First papers are supported in part by a grant from The Commonwealth Fund. You can also find the journal on Facebook and Twitter. Read daily perspectives on Health Affairs Blog. Download our podcasts, including monthly Narrative Matters essays, on iTunes. Tap into Health Affairs content with the new iPad app.