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Experts: Some cancer patients go bankrupt for treatment



PITTSBURGH - From surgery to chemo, cancer patients face a physical battle, but recent studies confirm what patients have long indicated: the very treatment saving their life also leaves a massive financial toll.

Marina Posvar is the patient navigation services coordinator at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

She meets with newly diagnosed patients to answer about what resources are available.

As a cancer survivor, Posvar knows firsthand how overwhelming the financial burden can be.

"It was thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. It was through the roof," she said. "We sold everything just to be able to pay for the treatment."

Posvar was a young mother when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite having insurance, the treatment nearly bankrupt her family.

"While I was going through treatment with my two little boys at my side I was getting constant calls from collection agencies," Posvar recalled.

Joyce Grater heads the social services department at the Hillman Cancer Center. She helps cancer patients deal with the emotional, physical and financial stress, and estimates that 85 percent of the patients she assists have some financial concern.

"It doesn't come out until they have an accumulation of bills or they get that one big co-pay when they go to the pharmacy, and it throws them over," she said.

A study done by the American Cancer Society found that 41 percent of cancer patients have a tough time paying medical bills.

Another study done by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center discovered that cancer patients are twice as likely to file for bankruptcy than the general population.

Grater said most of those struggling with medical bills have insurance.

"It's a hard thing for patients to admit they have financial issues and they have financial concerns," she explained.

She adds that often when the bills begin to mount, patients cut back on items that could jeopardize their recovery, such as food, medicine, and even doctors appointments.

Posvar has been cancer-free for 13 years, but her battle took an enormous financial toll.

"I've never recovered," she said. "Here I am today and I have zero savings."

Social workers can help get financial aid from local and national foundations and organizations. That aid can cover things from co-payments, to medication to utilities and transportation, but Grater said, patients have to take the first step and tell their doctor they need help.

For more information, visit the American Cancer Society's website