How financial navigators reduce barriers to care for cancer patients

September 30, 2022

At Allina Health Cancer Institute (AHCI), we offer comprehensive and proactive patient financial navigation, designed to help ease the burden of cancer treatment costs. Our goal is to minimize the financial barriers to cancer care to improve patient outcomes and quality of life.

In cancer care, advanced chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapies and other advanced medications are the major cost drivers. Although these treatments hold great promise in prolonging patients’ lives and improving their quality of life, the advances come with significant costs. The CDC projects that the national costs of cancer care will reach $246 billion by 2030.

Unfortunately, patients are bearing an increasing proportion of these costs through increased out-of-pocket responsibilities such as premiums, deductibles, coinsurance and co-pays. This cost shift causes financial stress and hardships for patients and families and may even affect patient outcomes and recovery after cancer treatment.

What is financial toxicity?

Financial toxicity describes the distress or hardship caused by the financial burden of cancer treatment. Patients with cancer are at higher risk for financial hardship, including personal bankruptcy, than the general population. 

Similar to the side effects of cancer treatments, financial problems after a cancer diagnosis can also cause physical, social and emotional difficulties for patients and their loved ones. These difficulties include:

  • Increased stress, anxiety and other psychosocial effects
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Poorer adherence to treatment
  • Delays in medical care
  • Decreased survival

Studies show that, among adult cancer patients:

  • Up to 73% experience some level of cancer-related financial toxicity.
  • 38% postponed or did not fill drug prescriptions to save money.
  • Bankruptcy is 2.65 times more likely than for people without cancer.
  • Those who filed for bankruptcy had a 79% greater risk of early mortality.

The interaction between the financial and clinical aspects of cancer care, therefore, represents an emerging challenge to the oncology community. This interaction is an important contributor to disparities in treatment and outcomes in this patient population.

What is a financial navigation program?

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A financial navigation program can help patients, their families and caregivers understand and better manage financial issues related to cancer care. Financial navigation focuses on addressing and preventing financial toxicity by guiding patients through the complexities of the health care and health insurance system.

Health literacy is challenging for patients and families who are already coping with the uncertainties of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Many can benefit from professional guidance to understand cancer care, health insurance coverage and financial assistance resources. AHCI provides comprehensive training for financial navigators so that they can fully support patients in reducing their risk of financial toxicity.

Experienced financial navigators at Allina Health Cancer Institute

Our specially trained financial navigators focus on facilitating access to care by reducing the financial barriers many patients face. Patients can meet with our financial navigators at all AHCI locations. The program is available to patients and families throughout the continuum of cancer care, from diagnosis through treatment and survivorship.

To reduce the financial burden of cancer, we work closely with patients and families to:

  • Screen patients upfront for assistance eligibility, identifying financially at-risk patients and prioritizing those who have the most financial need
  • Educate patients about their financial responsibilities for cancer care
  • Evaluate patients’ health insurance plans to ensure that they’re leveraging all available programs and services
  • Connect them with resources to support living expenses such as food, housing, utility bills, transportation and more
  • Address and minimize out-of-pocket costs through:
    • Patient foundation resources for co-pay assistance
    • Pharmaceutical companies’ drug assistance programs

Trained financial navigators produce positive outcomes  

Recent studies show that financial navigation programs benefit patients through lower out-of-pocket costs, resulting in greater patient satisfaction. In addition, the programs also mitigate financial losses for health care institutions. Over time, we expect to see patient benefits in better treatment adherence, increased survival and improved quality of life.

Partner with Allina Health Cancer Institute: how to refer your patients

We welcome referrals from health care providers across the Twin Cities, western Wisconsin and beyond. Here’s how you can refer a patient to AHCI for cancer care:

Providers within Allina Health can place a consult order within Epic.

Providers from outside Allina Health can refer patients by calling our nearest cancer center: