The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has eased financial struggles for younger adult cancer survivors, a new study finds.
University of Michigan researchers analyzed data from more than 20,000 participants in the National Health Interview Survey and found that cancer survivors ages 18 to 64 were less likely to delay treatments and had less difficulty paying for medications or dental care from 2014 to 2018.
That five-year period was after several important features of the ACA -- including the Health Insurance Marketplace -- took effect.
There wasn't much change in the ability of cancer survivors 65 and older to afford health care during the study period, likely because so many were on Medicare, according to the researchers.
"When the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act came into play, all the measures of affordability came down for the younger survivors, but they actually stayed the same for the Medicare population," said study first author Dr. Christopher Su, a clinical fellow in Michigan Medicine's division of hematology and oncology.
Between 2015 and 2017, those measures fell to their lowest points since 1999 for adult cancer survivors younger than 65, meaning they were more likely to be able to afford their health care than at any other time since the start of this century.
The study also found that after the ACA -- often called Obamacare -- became law, there was a drop in the number of younger cancer survivors without health insurance and an increase in Medicaid enrollment for these patients.
When the researchers traced these measures back over the past two decades, they saw that between 2015 and 2017 all had dropped to their lowest points since 1999 for adult cancer survivors younger than 65, meaning that younger cancer survivors were more likely to be able to afford their health care than at any other time since this century began.
"There has been a lot of talk about the ACA affecting people who don't have the Medicare safety net. We were able to drill down to that and show that it did make a difference to younger cancer survivors," Su said in a university news release.
"At the end of the day, the ACA really benefits people who are vulnerable, who are at high risk, who, for whatever reason, need to come to get medical care a lot and the medical care that they get is expensive. I think we can say that cancer patients fit this definition," Su said.
"The younger working population doesn't have pensions," he noted. "Most don't have a rainy day fund stored away for them if they get cancer. They're still trying to work, still trying to put bread on the table."
The ACA "made it easier to sign up for Medicaid, to sign up for a health insurance plan that's affordable to them, and now they have a better umbrella to fall back on for their health care expenses without jeopardizing their already precarious finances because cancer put them out of work or reduced the time that they could be working," Su said.
The findings were published July 13 in the journal JCO Oncology Practice.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on follow-up care after cancer treatment.
SOURCE: Michigan Medicine-University of Michigan, news release, July 13, 2021