A new Harvard study found that breast cancer treatment was delayed by up to 8 months for women with high-deductible plans compared to women with low deductibles. The findings, published in the March issue of the journal Health Affairs, reinforce concerns that the high cost of cancer care will further damage patients’ health — a concept known as “financial toxicity.”

What is financial toxicity?

Out-of-pocket costs associated with treating cancer have a major financial and emotional impact on patients and their families, according to the National Cancer Institute. Cancer treatments, medications, lost wages, and other expenses can strain even families with significant resources.

What about insurance coverage?

Co-pays (a fee paid for a doctor’s visit or medication), the plan’s deductible (the amount patients pay out of pocket before the plan begins covering a greater share of costs), and coinsurance (a portion of any given bill that patients are responsible for even after the deductible is met) are not covered by insurance.

What else contributes to financial toxicity?

Missing work means lost wages or even lost jobs. Patients may need to tap into their retirement accounts, college funds, and other resources if their personal savings aren’t enough.

How does financial toxicity affect patients and their families?

Research has found that patients experiencing financial toxicity may skip treatment or ration medication doses, further compromising their health. Mental health and quality of life also can suffer, according to the National Cancer Institute.