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Analysis

Omnibus Spending Bill Lets Cancer Patients Defer Student Loan Payments

By Jack O'Brien  
   September 19, 2018

The new bipartisan congressional spending package included an arrangement for patients actively receiving cancer treatment to defer payment on their public student loans.

Included in the 2019 Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, passed by the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, is a provision to allow individuals actively receiving cancer treatment to defer payment on their public student loans.

According to Rep. Betty McCollum, more than 70,000 young adults are diagnosed with cancer annually without being able to qualify for a student loan deferral.

Critical Mass: The Young Adult Cancer Alliance, an oncology advocacy group, estimates that the average young adult cancer patient is likely to incur approximately $45,000 of additional debt while undergoing treatment. This accounts for the cost of care received as well as the inability to work, which impedes their ability to pay medical bills.

“I hope that without having to worry about making their student loan payments, these patients will be able to focus on what is most important—beating their disease and getting healthy,” McCollum said in a press release Friday

The measure was spearheaded by McCollum along with Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who built off of a similar legislative effort last year that was led by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo.

The issue of cancer patient student loan deferrals has been a longstanding issue in oncology circles, best highlighted by an op-ed in The New York Times from journalist and cancer survivor Rebecca Ritzel, which called on Congress to pass the Ros-Lehtinen-Perlmutter measure. 

Related: Help Your Breast Cancer Patients Overcome Financial Burdens

The news was well-received by oncology stakeholders, who view the legislation as an effective way to lessen the immense financial burdens facing cancer patients. 

Below are collected stakeholder responses to the legislative provision:

  • "Age is a barrier to surviving and thriving after a cancer diagnosis in the United States," said Kate Yglesias Houghton, CEO of Critical Mass. "[Rep. Tom] Cole and [Rep. Betty] McCollum are heroes to thousands of young adults undergoing cancer treatment and shouldering the burden of student loan payments.”
  • "Thanks to strong Congressional leadership and bipartisan support, we may now soon be able to cross mounting student loan debt off the long list of pressing concerns faced by people in cancer treatment," said Dr. Damon Reed, Medical Director of the Moffitt Cancer Center Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology.
  • "For years we have seen what happens in the absence of protections like this - young adults forced into forbearance or defaulting entirely on their student loans," said  said Samantha Watson, CEO of The Samfund. "The negative impact is felt for years, if not decades, afterwards. “This exciting and important first step will prevent many of the life crises we see on a daily basis."

Related: Staggering Prices Slow Insurers' Coverage of CAR-T Cancer Therapy

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders. 


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