Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Cancer survivors with high-deductible insurance plans are more likely to delay or forgo treatment altogether, a new study says.
Those with high-deductible plans and no health savings accounts were nearly 14 percent more likely to delay or skip important cancer care, according to research published Thursday in the Journal of Oncology Practice. This suggests health savings accounts may help patients to receive much needed but costly care.
Health savings accounts are untaxed savings insurance customers can put aside to pay deductibles, copayments, coinsurance and other out-of-post costs, aside from health insurance premiums.
"High-deductible health plans require patients to pay a significant amount of out-of-pocket cost before comprehensive coverage of health care services," Jason Zheng, a researcher at the American Cancer Society and study principal author, told UPI. "Patients may have difficulties to pay these upfront costs, and postpone or delay care as a method to save money."
The researchers say high-deductible plans force cancer patients to pay for upfront costs associated with care, such as visits to primary care physicians and oncologists. However, many patients miss out on that important treatment, causing their health to get worse. The loss of benefit from missing those appointments can lead to costlier downstream treatments as their health worsens from cancer.
The researchers used data for the 2010 to 2017 National Health Interview Survey. They examined people between ages 18 and 64 with private insurance, more than 4,300 who were cancer survivors and 95,316 who were cancer-free.
The patients were placed into six groups. Three of the groups had cancer survivors -- those with low-deductible health plans, survivors with high-deductible health plans and health savings accounts and those with high-deductible plans and no savings account.
As of 2019, people with high deductible plans can save up to $3,500 in health savings accounts for individual coverage and $7,000 for family plans. In 2020, insurance holders will be able to save up to $3,550 for individuals and up to $7,100 for family coverage.
But not all insurance companies offer health insurance accounts with high-deductible plans.
In the study, patients with savings accounts coupled with either low- or high-deductible plans had similarly low rates of delaying or forgoing care, at 7.9 and 8.9. These findings suggest health plans reduce the risk of patients missing out on treatment.
"I think that health plan benefits managers, payers, and policymakers should identify reasons for low HSA participation rates, provide more education about the benefits of different health plan options to help patients understand the implications of health plans and HSAs and develop tools to forecast medical expenses and facilitate HSA enrollment," Zheng said.
In 2017, more than 23 million people were diagnosed with some form of cancer and nearly 600,000 died from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Health professionals can talk to their patients about health savings accounts, explain the potential benefits and help patients anticipate their future healthcare needs so that patients can have a plan for their health savings accounts," Zheng said.