BACKGROUND: Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, causing a substantial economic burden on cancer suffers and their families. The aim of this study is to explore the prevalence, determinants and consequences of catastrophic health expenditure (CHE) among urban and rural end-of-life (EOF) cancer patients in China.
METHODS: Using respondent-driven sampling and face-to-face interviews, field research was conducted with a specialist questionnaire. Data were collected on 792 cancer patients who died between June 2013 and June 2016 in China. The determinants of household catastrophic expenditure were identified by multivariate logistic regression.
FINDINGS: It is found that more than 80% of cancer patients received life-extending treatment. Extremely high rates of CHE were identified among EOL cancer patients, at 94.3% for urban families and 96.1% for rural families. After spending for health, 84.1% of urban and 91.1% rural EOL cancer patient households were impoverished, falling below the poverty line. For both urban and rural households, income was the most significant factor associated with catastrophic health expenditure (CHE). Health insurance did not adequately compensate for CHE. Rural families experienced higher CHE, lower levels of health care utilization, a different mix of health care access and higher rates of borrowing for out-of-pocket (OOP) health care expenditures than urban families. Both urban and rural households suffered long-term economic disadvantage due to CHE and borrowing for OOP medical care expenses.
CONCLUSIONS: EOL cancer patients experienced severe CHE, with families forced into poverty. With only about 1% of EOL cancer patients receiving palliative care, developing palliative care services and expanding the acceptance of palliative care in China is both urgent and essential. To help address impoverishment due to CHE, China should also develop targeted programs to reduce income inequality, especially rural-urban inequalities; increase access to health care; and accelerate health reform. Increasing the retirement age would provide households with more savings and wealth to withstand CHE.
BACKGROUND: Cancer imposes substantial burdens on cancer suffers, their families and the health system, especially in the end of life (EOL) of care patients. There are few developing country studies of EOL health care costs and no specialist studies of the disparities in cancer treatment and care costs by geographical location in China. We sought to examine geographical disparities in the types of cancer treatments and care costs during the last 3 months of life for Chinese cancer patients.
METHODS: Using snowball sampling and face-to-face interviews, field research was conducted with a specialist questionnaire. Data were collected on 792 cancer patients who died between July 2013 and June 2016 in China. Total EOL health care costs were modeled using generalized linear models (GLMs) with log link and gamma distribution.
RESULTS: Total health care costs were highest for urban (US$12,501) and western region (US$9808) patients and lowest for rural (US$5996) and central region (US$5814) patients. Our study revealed about 40% of the health care expenses occur in the last three months of life, and was mainly driven by hospital costs that accounted for about 70% of EOL expenditures. Patients faced out-of-pocket expenses for health care, with the ability to borrow from family and friends also impacting the type of treatment and health facility. Life-extending treatments per cancer patient was about two times that of patients receiving conservative treatments.Urban patients were more likely to receive life-extending treatments, financed by higher incomes and a greater capacity to borrow from family and friends to bridge the gap between health insurance reimbursements and out-of-pocket expenditures. Cancer patients in western region and urban area were significantly more likely to access hospice care.
CONCLUSIONS: We found significant urban-rural and regional disparities in EOL types of cancer treatment, utilization of medical care and the health care expenditures. The EOL cancer care costs imposed heavy economic burdens in China.We recommend better clinical guidelines, improved EOL conversations and fuller information on treatment regimes among patients, family caregivers and doctors. Policies and information should pay more attention to palliative care options and the socio-cultural context of cancer care decision-making by family.