The Costs of Cancer - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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There aren’t any studies that prove that African Americans, when diagnosed with cancer, carry a larger percentage of the economic burden compared with white cancer patients. However, anecdotal evidence shows that they may pay higher out-of-pocket costs due to gaps in insurance coverage.

Some doctors believe that African Americans, who are often lower on the socio-economic ladder, are predisposed to be uninsured or underinsured. This means that oftentimes they go without treatment simply because they can’t afford insurance or even if they have insurance, they can’t afford the co-pays and deductibles. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the uninsured rate of non-elderly African Americans is 21% compared with 17% of the population overall.

The Reasons and Results of Late Diagnosis

An inability to afford treatment may not explain why black people have a higher incidence of some cancers, but it could be one of many reasons that African Americans have a higher rate of death from cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, poor and uninsured people are more likely to be treated for cancer at late stages of disease, are more likely to receive substandard clinical care and services, and are more likely to die from cancer.

“African Americans who are privately insured will likely pay higher out-of-pocket costs for cancer treatment because they are more likely to be underinsured or insured by carriers that cover fewer procedures,” says Thomas A. LaVeist, Ph.D., director of the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “If you don’t have insurance that is generous in its coverage then the out-of-pocket costs might influence your decision-making [in terms of treatment].”

Lack of coverage might lead someone to forgo cancer screenings until later. Prolonged and postponed doctor’s visits usually mean diagnosis in later stages of cancer and poorer survival rates. Black people are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stage diseases for breast, cervical, colorectal, lung, prostate, and ovarian cancers.

“If there is one thing that is both sad and morally unacceptable is that the advances we’ve made in cancer prevention, treatment, and control are directly related to early detection,” says Dr. Stephen B. Thomas director of the Center for Minority Health and a professor of the Community Health and Social Justice Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. “African Americans are not taking advantage of early detection procedures. They are suffering the consequences of diseases that we now know how to prevent treat and control. And that’s a shame.”

Blacks are more likely to die from colorectal cancer than any other racial or ethnic group. “We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that colorectal cancer screening saves lives. The national recommendation is that you have a screening for colorectal at age 50,” says Dr. Thomas. “Despite those recommendations, not all insurances will pay for the cost of a colorectal cancer screening. That is why our health care system is so broken.”


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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.