First breast cancer, than financial slide

Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) has released a report that shines a spotlight on the financial impact of a breast cancer diagnosis on women and their families.

The report, titled The Financial Impact of Breast Cancer, was prepared by Deloitte Access Economics and is the first of its kind in Australia. It found that women typically pay around $5,000 in out-of-pocket costs in the five years after their diagnosis, with the majority of this in the first two years. However, the report showed the range of costs is highly variable with some (12 per cent) having no out-of-pocket costs and one quarter of women (25 per cent) experiencing out-of-pocket costs of more than $17,200.

These figures do not take into account lost wages if a woman needs to take time off work or reduce her hours because of breast cancer treatment. BCNA CEO Christine Nolan said the report showed the total number of household hours worked dropped by 50 per cent in the first year after a breast cancer diagnosis.

“Our report shows that time away from work can continue beyond the first year after a breast cancer diagnosis and this can significantly impact a household’s financial situation. It’s also important to remember that not everyone has a second income they can fall back on – for single women with breast cancer who need to reduce their hours or stop work altogether, this can cause significant stress and worry,” Christine said.

“We also know that many women with or without partners really struggle with the loss of independence they face when their income is reduced or stops completely, and this can negatively impact their wellbeing,” she said.

The report indicated that women without private health insurance pay around $3,600 in out-of-pocket costs while women with private health insurance pay around $7,000 for treatment in the private health system. Some women in the private health system reported out-of-pocket costs of more than $21,000.

It also showed that women living in a rural and regional area can face additional costs if they need to travel long distances for treatment and stay overnight. Many women reported that travel can disrupt family life and significantly impact a household budget.

People living with metastatic breast cancer carry additional financial burdens because of the unpredictable and ongoing nature of their disease. The incurable nature of metastatic breast cancer means they face ongoing costs for treatment, have difficulty planning for the future, face uncertainly around whether a life-extending new drug will be listed on the PBS, and also need to navigate complex insurance and superannuation claims.

Consumer finance specialist, BCNA board member and breast cancer survivor Lisa Montgomery said it is important to acknowledge how a sudden change in someone’s financial situation can have a significant impact on their wellbeing.

“If you’re a younger woman who is less well established, you might not have a lot of savings or a lot of equity in your home. If you’re not in a relationship then there is no second income to help support you. On the other hand, women who are diagnosed later in life may be retired and living on a fixed income that doesn’t allow for the cost of breast cancer treatment,” Lisa said.

“Recent research into financial resilience in Australia shows that almost 65 per cent of Australians are facing some level of financial stress and vulnerability. Half have two months or less of their usual wage in savings, and 10 per cent have no savings at all. Our report highlights the varying situations women can find themselves in when they are diagnosed with breast cancer and some of the stories are really distressing,” she said.

The report is underpinned by a survey of almost 2,000 Australian women who shared the out-of-pocket costs they faced when diagnosed with breast cancer, and how these costs impacted their financial situation.

“For nearly 20 years BCNA has heard from our members about the out-of-pocket costs they face for their breast cancer treatment and care – and the stress and worry this adds to a situation that is already stressful enough. Our report has confirmed that breast cancer can have a significant financial impact on women and their families, which can last many years after the initial diagnosis,” Christine said.

“Our report includes 14 recommendations that will reduce the out-of-pocket costs for Australians diagnosed with breast cancer. We hope that private health insurers, government and health service providers will consider our recommendations and work together to reduce the financial impact on Australians with breast cancer,” she said.

“Our report will also guide BCNA’s own advocacy work as we seek to reduce the financial burden on Australians diagnosed with breast cancer and allow them to focus on what is most important at the time of a breast cancer diagnosis – their health.”

Deloitte Access Economics was commissioned to conduct the survey of BCNA members about the out-of-pocket costs of their breast cancer treatment and care in the first five years after their cancer diagnosis.

The full report and case studies can be downloaded at www.bcna.org.au/financialimpact