Report: Cancer expenses doubled since 1987

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According to a study published online May 10 in Cancer, the medical costs of cancer have nearly doubled over the course of the past 20 years and as a result, the share of these costs paid for by private insurance and Medicaid have increased.

Health Economist Florence K. Tangka, PhD, and her colleagues from the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said that prior to their study, there had never been a comprehensive analysis of how aggregate cancer costs have changed over time.

Leveraging data from the 2001 through 2005 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and the 1987 National Medical Care Expenditure Survey, the researchers estimated cancer-attributable medical expenditures by payor and type of service.

In doing so, two of the aforementioned trends were identified, as well as cancer costs shifting away from the inpatient setting, the authors wrote.

Tangka and colleagues determined that in 1987, the total medical cost of cancer (adjusted to 2007 U.S. dollars) was $24.7 billion.

Medicare financed approximately 33 percent of this total, followed by 17 percent paid out of pocket, other public payors, 7 percent and Medicaid approximately 1 percent, according to the researchers. Private payors were found to have financed the largest share, at 42 percent.

The total medical cost of cancer increased to $48.1 billion between 1987 and the 2001 to 2005 period and the number of reported cases rose, the authors wrote, which they partially attributed to new cases of cancer diagnosed among an aging population, as well as to an increase in the prevalence of cancer. 

During this time period, Medicare financed approximately the same amount, rising a percentage to 34 percent. Other public payors dropped to 5 percent and Medicaid rose to 3 percent. Private insurance saw the greatest decrease however, financing 50 percent of the cost of cancer.

In addition, the authors found that the share of total cancer costs that resulted from inpatient admissions fell from 64.4 percent in 1987 to 27.5 percent in 2001 to 2005, representing a drop in inpatient costs from $15.9 billion to $13.2 billion over the course of this time period.

According to the researchers, this trend demonstrates that cancer treatments are increasingly being provided in outpatient settings.

Overall, Tangka and colleagues have concluded their findings to be positive, as they noted a 1.8 percent annual decline in cancer deaths beginning in 2002.