It's the financial side that's the killer

Tuesday 28 January, 2020

Kristine is a 45-year-old mother of three and grandmother of five. She lives in the Hume region with her husband and their 16-year-old daughter.

When Kristine found a lump in her breast, her GP referred her for a scan at the local public hospital, who diagnosed her with breast cancer.

Despite not having private health insurance, Kristine was referred to a private surgeon locally and then to a private oncologist 45 kilometres away, as there’s no public oncologists in her town.

Deciding on the best treatment path was confusing. Kristine’s oncologist suggested that she call her surgeon to discuss the right treatment plan.

At no point were options discussed around public or private treatment and the expected costs.

“There were no options given," said Kristine. "Until recently, I wasn’t aware that there's public and private and that people elsewhere aren't paying $150 per week. That's just what has to be done and that was never discussed - the finance of it.”

Kristine’s now receiving weekly chemotherapy at the public hospital in her town. She is booked in to see a private oncologist at the hospital each week, which has out of pocket costs of about $60 per visit. Sometimes she needs additional appointments between the surgeon and oncologist in the same week.

Kristine is just over halfway through chemotherapy and had to give up work while undergoing treatment “because my treatment plan kept changing”.

“It's the financial side of it that's been a killer to be honest - you're losing an income and gaining all of these expenses.”

In just four months, Kristine is already about $1,680 out of pocket for appointments and medications. She needs a mastectomy, but she’s yet to learn the details, which will be at a Melbourne public hospital.

“I want a breast surgeon and there’s none locally so I’m seeing a specialist in Melbourne,” she said.

“I'm hoping for reconstruction - double mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time. We haven't gone into how long I'll be in hospital in Melbourne for – but I know that all the after care has to be done in Melbourne."

Too many people experience unnecessary worry and anxiety, and potentially incur avoidable out-of-pocket costs. Research shows half of Australians with cancer including those treated in the public system have out-of-pocket
costs in excess of $5,000.

ACTION: Cancer Council has made a submission to the Victorian Cancer Plan to improve arrangements for regional public patients who have to access private treatment so they don't have out-of-pocket costs. Learn more.

“My heart breaks for people who don't have a little bit of savings behind them. I don't know how they do it. Do they not go? What are their options? I don't know that they know.” 

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