What Does It Really Cost To Treat Breast Cancer?

Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic.

Today, Julia Louis-Dreyfus revealed on Twitter that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. "The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring family and friends, and fantastic insurance through my union," she posted in a photo. "The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let's fight all cancers and make universal health care a reality."

Healthcare has been a burning hot topic in the past week, and on the heels of the GOP's latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act this Tuesday, Louis-Dreyfus's statement echoes a concern that's top of mind for many Americans: What will it cost to treat breast cancer?

The short answer is that it depends on a lot of different things, like a person's age, stage of cancer, and insurance policy. What we do know is that a 2016 study found that uninsured cancer patients pay as much as double for doctors' visits and 43 times as much for chemotherapy drugs, compared to patients on Medicare or private insurance plans.

In that study, researchers reviewed insurance claims from 8,360 women ages 18 to 64 who had been diagnosed with breast cancer between 2010 and 2012. They found that the cost of treatment varies drastically depending on a person's stage and age. The average total costs per patient allowed by insurance in the year after their diagnosis were $60,637 for stage 0, $82,121 for stages I and II, $129,387 for stage III, and $134,682 for stage IV.

These sums can sound downright generous, but the truth is treatment will cost this much, if not more, when care including inpatient and outpatient breast cancer surgery, all costs during the day of infused chemotherapy, oral chemotherapy drugs, radiation therapy, other prescription drugs, and other medical costs are all taken into account.

In an interview with NPR earlier this week, Molly Young, a 29-year-old self-employed music teacher who is insured under the ACA, said that her six months of treatment for breast cancer would have cost her over $120,000 out of pocket. "It sounded so inhumane to me that people were arguing about whether or not people in my position should be allowed to be cared for and be saved, because without coverage, without this treatment, I would just die and that's it," Young told NPR about the GOP's proposed healthcare plan.

Whether you're an actor insured by a union like Louis-Dreyfus or someone covered under the ACA, a breast cancer diagnosis is an incredibly difficult burden to bear, financially and emotionally. Having insurance to be able to afford cancer treatment can result in a a literal difference between life or death. As Louis-Dreyfus put it, it's a fight that should resonate with everyone.