Out of the approximate 1.6 million adult Americans diagnosed with cancer each year, many endure some form of financial hardship related to the disease or treatments for it. Even if they’re insured, many patients are forced to make significant changes involving their finances, which can include anything from reducing leisure expenses to dipping into savings, taking on debt, or even declaring bankruptcy. Given the fact that fewer than one out of four Americans has enough money in a savings account to cover at least six months of expenses in an emergency situation, it’s not surprising that many cancer patients and their families have no alternative but to suffer this financial burden. But what is surprising is the fact that black cancer sufferers are much more likely to end up in debt or forgo potentially life-saving treatments due to cost.
In a recent study, researchers focused on cancer survivors between the ages of 20 and 79 who were diagnosed or treated at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit. Of the 695 people who have participated in the study thus far (including 414 black cancer survivors), approximately 52% stated they were facing some form of financial stress as a result of their treatment. This number includes approximately 57% of black patients and 47% of white patients. Research revealed that 31% of black patients went into debt from treatment, while only 18% of white patients did so. Furthermore, 21% of black cancer survivors made treatment decisions based on cost concerns, including avoidance of office visits and skipping prescribed medicinal doses. Only about 15% of white patients reported doing so.
Researchers speculate the differences in job status, insurance, and net worth are contributing factors for the additional financial burden African Americans face with their treatment. Study author Theresa Hastert stated that although being black does not “cause” the increased financial hardships, being an African American in the U.S. is associated with factors that “all contribute to differences in socioeconomic status,” which may contribute to the amount of lasting burden debt these patients have to take on.
Although the study is considered to be preliminary, its findings likely circle back to the racial wage gap — which was recently found to be the worst it’s been in nearly 40 years. Last year, the hourly pay gap between black and white employees increased to 26.7%. The study reported that the reasons for the widening gap have little to do with differences in work experience, limited access to education, or location. Rather, the primary factor at play seems to be discrimination.
Therefore, it’s likely due to this racial discrimination that black cancer patients are being made to choose between avoiding the treatment they need to survive or digging themselves into debt in order to afford it. American racial inequality is deep-rooted, and it’s a subject that is in dire need of addressing and repair.