Finns increasingly seek help with cancer costs, group says

Cancer cases rose by about 20 percent between 2011 and 2019, but applications for financial support ballooned by nearly 1000 percent.

File photo of cancer patient undergoing radiation therapy. Image: Yle

The number of people dealing with cancer diagnoses seeking financial support from the Cancer Society of Finland has increased tenfold over the past decade, according to the organisation.

In 2011 the society received a total of 160 applications on behalf of cancer patients needing financial help. Last year the number of grant seekers reached 1,731. The group noted that the number of new cancer diagnoses did not grow at such a rate during that time.

Figures on Finland's cancer rates at the Finnish Cancer Registry are currently updated until 2019. By that year, there were just under 20 percent more cancer cases registered than in 2011, but applications for financial support ballooned by nearly 1000 percent, according to the society.

People and families dealing with cancer apply for the assistance with the help of hospital cancer ward social workers. The Cancer Society's grants help patients pay for things like health care fees, medication and travel expenses.

The Cancer Society's advisory services chief, Taina Häkkinen, said that the resulting economic impact of cancer comes as a surprise to many families and a diagnosis can result in a family's financial collapse.

Payment ceilings

"Even if many families often live paycheck to paycheck, many do not have savings for unexpected situations. Families may have had hard financial times even before becoming ill, and cancer can cause a collapse," Häkkinen said.

Despite Finland's generally free health care system, there is a medical cost payment ceiling of 680 euros per year that patients need to pay themselves. In addition to those expenditures, there is also an annual 580-euro ceiling for prescription drugs and a yearly 300-euro threshold for travel costs, which must come from a patient's own funds.

The payment ceiling period is based on the calendar year, not from the time of diagnosis.

"If a patient falls ill in October, for example, he or she might not have time to accrue the amount required to reach those payment ceilings by the end of the year and won't be able to access [services and medicine] free-of-charge," Häkkinen explained.

"Since the ceiling is tied to the calendar year, that patient would still have to pay his or her costs in January," she said, adding that if people are already struggling with low incomes or pensions, these costs easily become difficult to deal with.

Last year the Cancer Society distributed nearly 690,000 euros in financial support to people with cancer, which is about 12 times more than the organisation granted in 2011. The group has 12 regional cancer associations and six national patient organisations.