Understanding the Financial Needs Following Diagnosis of Breast Cancer in a Setting with Universal Health Coverage

Kong, Y. C., Wong, L. P., Ng, C. W., Taib, N. A., Bhoo-Pathy, N. T., Yusof, M. M., Aziz, A. F., Yehgambaram, P., Ishak, W. Z. W., Yip, C. H., Bhoo-Pathy, N.

BACKGROUND: A diagnosis of cancer negatively impacts the financial wellbeing of affected individuals as well as their households. We aimed to gain an in-depth understanding of the financial needs following diagnosis of breast cancer in a middle-income setting with universal health coverage. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Twelve focus group discussions (n = 64) were conducted with women with breast cancer from two public and three private hospitals. This study specifically focused on (a) health costs, (b) nonhealth costs, (c) employment and earnings, and (d) financial assistance. Thematic analysis was used. RESULTS: Financial needs related to cancer treatment and health care varied according to the participant’s socioeconomic background and type of medical insurance. Although having medical insurance alleviated cancer treatment-related financial difficulties, limited policy coverage for cancer care and suboptimal reimbursement policies were common complaints. Nonhealth expenditures were also cited as an important source of financial distress; patients from low-income households reported transport and parking costs as troublesome, with some struggling to afford basic necessities, whereas participants from higher-income households mentioned hired help, special food and/or supplements and appliances as expensive needs following cancer. Needy patients had a hard time navigating through the complex system to obtain financial support. Irrespective of socioeconomic status, reductions in household income due to loss of employment and/or earnings were a major source of economic hardship. CONCLUSION: There are many unmet financial needs following a diagnosis of (breast) cancer even in settings with universal health coverage. Health care professionals may only be able to fulfill these unmet needs through multisectoral collaborations, catalyzed by strong political will. IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: As unmet financial needs exist among patients with cancer across all socioeconomic groups, including for patients with medical insurance, financial navigation should be prioritized as an important component of cancer survivorship services, including in the low- and middle-income settings. Apart from assisting survivors to understand the costs of cancer care, navigate the complex system to obtain financial assistance, or file health insurance claims, any planned patient navigation program should also provide support to deal with employment-related challenges and navigate return to work. It is also echoed that costs for essential personal items (e.g., breast prostheses) should be covered by health insurance or subsidized by the government.

Health Condition(s): Cancer
Year Published: 2020
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