High Insurance Deductibles Lead Breast Cancer Patients to Delay Care: Study

High health insurance deductibles cause some American women with breast cancer to delay care, according to a new study.

Researchers found that women who were newly-diagnosed with breast cancer were more likely to put off getting diagnostic imaging and biopsies if they had had insurance plans with deductibles of at least $1,000, The New York Times reported.

These women delayed starting chemotherapy by an average of seven months, according to Dr. J. Frank Wharam, a Harvard researcher and one of the study authors.

"Slight delays added up to long delays," he said, The Times reported.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The researchers did not examine the women's outcomes after treatment, but experts say that even a short delay between diagnosis and treatment can be significant. Survival rates are higher for patients with some cancers if they receive early treatment, The Times reported.

Dr. Ethan Basch, the director of cancer outcomes research at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said finances often influence patients' decisions. He was not involved in the study.

If patients face high out-of-pocket costs, "they're of a mind-set to avoid visits, expensive treatments," he told The Times. "They have a fear."

More than half of the questions to the helpline at the Susan G. Komen breast cancer charity are about financial assistance, according to Susan Brown, senior director of education and patient support.

"They have people all the time talking about stopping their treatment or delaying treatment," even when a patient has had an abnormal screening and requires a work-up for a final diagnosis, Brown told The Times.

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