Out-of-Pocket Costs among Patients with a New Cancer Diagnosis Enrolled in High-Deductible Health Plans vs Traditional Insurance

Sue J. Fu, Liam Rose, Aaron J. Dawes, Lisa M. Knowlton, Kathryn J. Ruddy, Arden M. Morris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Importance: The financial burden of a cancer diagnosis is increasing rapidly with advances in cancer care. Simultaneously, more individuals are enrolling in high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) vs traditional insurance than ever before. Objective: To characterize the out-of-pocket costs (OOPCs) of cancer care for individuals in HDHPs vs traditional insurance plans. Design, Setting, and Participants: This retrospective cohort study used the administrative claims data of a single national insurer in the US for 134826 patients aged 18 to 63 years with a new diagnosis of breast, colorectal, lung, or other cancer from 2008 to 2018 with 24 months or more of continuous enrollment. Propensity score matching was performed to create comparator groups based on the presence or absence of an incident cancer diagnosis. Exposures: A new cancer diagnosis and enrollment in an HDHP vs a traditional health insurance plan. Main Outcomes and Measures: The primary outcome was OOPCs among individuals with breast, colon, lung, or all other types of cancer combined compared with those with no cancer diagnosis. A triple difference-in-differences analysis was performed to identify incremental OOPCs based on cancer diagnosis and enrollment in HDHPs vs traditional plans. Results: After propensity score matching, 134826 patients remained in each of the cancer (73572 women [55%]; median age, 53 years [IQR, 46-58 years]; 110071 non-Hispanic White individuals [82%]) and noncancer (66619 women [49%]; median age, 53 years [IQR, 46-59 years]; 105023 non-Hispanic White individuals [78%]) cohorts. Compared with baseline costs of medical care among individuals without cancer, a breast cancer diagnosis was associated with the highest incremental OOPC ($714.68; 95% CI, $664.91-$764.45), followed by lung ($475.51; 95% CI, $340.16-$610.86), colorectal ($361.41; 95% CI, $294.34-$428.48), and all other types of cancer combined ($90.51; 95% CI, $74.22-$106.79). Based on the triple difference-in-differences analysis, compared with patients without cancer enrolled in HDHPs, those with breast cancer paid $1683.36 in additional yearly OOPCs (95% CI, $1576.66-$1790.07), those with colorectal cancer paid $1420.06 more (95% CI, $1232.31-$1607.80), those with lung cancer paid $467.25 more (95% CI, $130.13-$804.37), and those with other types of cancer paid $550.87 more (95% CI, $514.75-$586.99). Conclusions and Relevance: Patients with cancer and private insurance experienced sharp increases in OOPCs compared with those without cancer, which was amplified among those with HDHPs. These findings illustrate the degree to which HDHPs offer poorer protection than traditional insurance against unexpected health care expenses. Coupled with the increasing cost of cancer care, higher cost sharing in the form of increasing enrollment in HDHPs requires further research on the potential clinical consequences through delayed or foregone care..

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 22 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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