Cancer care is costly. Even with insurance, patients pay out-of-pocket costs such as premiums and co-pays for visits and prescriptions. Patients who miss work because of treatment and recovery may have trouble paying for food, utilities, rent and childcare.
The National Cancer Institute estimated the average cost of medical care and drugs exceeds $42,000 in the year following a cancer diagnosis. Nationwide, about 1 in 5 indebted adults who have had cancer or have a family member with the disease say they owe $10,000 or more, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll. About two-thirds of adults with health care debt from cancer treatments have cut spending on food, clothing, or other household basics, according to the KFF poll. One quarter have declared bankruptcy or lost their home to eviction or foreclosure.
These hardships, known as Financial Toxicity, are increasingly recognized as a side effect of healthcare in the United States. Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is hard enough. At Central Georgia Cancer Care, we want to make sure that all our patients can focus on getting well. Many factors hinder health equity, including genetics, language barriers and health behavior, but probably the most important determinant is poverty, which can result in barriers to quality care, inadequate access to healthy foods, limited personal support systems and exposure to violence and poor environmental living and working conditions.
Most of our patients come from impoverished counties. At 10.8 percent, Houston County has a poverty rate close to the national average of 11.4 percent. Bibb County’s poverty rate, however, is nearly triple the national average at 28 percent and Peach County’s is nearly double at 19.2 percent. The 2020 Census recorded that Bibb County had the eighth highest poverty rate in all of Georgia.
The financial burden of cancer care often extends beyond the cancer patient to the family members or friends who become their caregivers. These caregivers often miss work to attend treatments or care for their loved ones further reducing the income-generating possibilities to cover care.
With health equity in mind, Central Georgia Cancer Care has developed a multi-layer approach to ensure best possible outcomes for all our patients. First, we emphasize awareness of conscious and unconscious biases and how to make adjustments as necessary. Next, we assess any potential barriers that may affect a patient’s care. We also conduct a financial analysis which determines which financial aid programs may benefit a patient.
At Central Georgia, we have two types of assistance. Through the Patient Assistance Program, CGCC, P.C. employees help screen patients, prepare grant requests, and search for all available funding from healthcare foundations or pharmaceutical companies to provide free drugs, copay cards, coinsurance, and more. From December of 2021 to February 2023 our patients received $32.24 million in free drugs and $7.53 million in grants used for copays, insurance premiums and other treatments.
In 2018, we recognized that our patients needed additional support, so we started the Central Georgia Cancer Foundation to help our low-income patients pay for other necessities. Two employees of CGCC, P.C. donate their time to run the nonprofit. The most requested grants are for groceries, gas, utilities (gas, power, water), mortgage/rent and childcare. Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis based on the request and need of the patient. To apply for funds, patients must be a CGCC patient who is actively receiving infusion therapy and must prove that their combined household income is at or below 150 percent of the U.S. Federal Poverty Level.
Patients can receive up to $500/annually from the CGCC Foundation. Funds are distributed in the form of gift cards or paid directly to the vendor/organization to which payment is due. The Foundation is currently assisting 568 patients and has 772 assistance applications. We raise money for the Foundation through a Pharmaceutical Expo Fundraisers held two or three times a year, Blue Jean Fridays for our staff and donations to the practice. In 2020 and 2021, we raised about $30,000. Organizations and individuals can donate through our website, www.centralgacancercare.com. We usually accept cash donations, but we can also accept donations of vehicles, property, or publicly traded securities.
The Foundation is a continuation of Central Georgia Cancer Care’s 40-plus year history of providing services to underserved cancer patients in the Macon and Warner Robins communities. For over 30 years, CGCC, P.C. donated time each week in the WT Anderson clinic serving cancer patients. As we continue to receive more donations, we hope to expand assistance to more cancer patients in our region, so no one ever has to choose between the medicine they need and other necessities such as food, clothing and shelter.