21 May 2013 2.2% Of Cancer Patients File For Bankruptcy
Most people would be inclined to yawn at the above headline. Thus, in reporting on this new study in Health Affairs, journalists wrote headlines such as “Cancer patients more than twice as likely to go bankrupt, study shows,” and “Cancer increases bankruptcy risk, even for insured.”
Those headlines are not inaccurate. The study did find “that cancer patients were 2.65 time more likely to go bankrupt than people without cancer.” However, such headlines may result in more alarmism than is warranted because they don’t tell the whole story. They only tell us our risk of going bankrupt if we get cancer compared to not getting it. We don’t know what is the risk that you’ll actually go bankrupt if you get cancer—at least not from those articles.*
Here are the numbers: of 197,840 patients with cancer, 4,408 went bankrupt. That’s a rate of 2.2% If just over 2 percent of cancer patients are going bankrupt, that means that our health care system does a reasonably good job of protecting cancer patients from catastrpophic costs.
But that’s not something you got from the media coverage of the study. Alarmism sells papers, and that’s why it is often worth digging into the numbers to get the full story.
*The second article did mention the raw numbers on cancer and bankruptcy, but did not mention the percentage or that the chances you’ll go bankrupt if you get cancer are relatively small.