Atrium Health Levine Cancer

News, Nursing | 3 days ago

First Lady Jill Biden Highlights Financial Support Program and Patient Navigators

In a visit to Atrium Health Levine Cancer, first lady of the United States Jill Biden underscored the importance of tackling financial toxicity in cancer care and the critical role of patient navigators in the journey toward recovery. 

In a visit to Atrium Health Levine Cancer, first lady of the United States Jill Biden underscored the importance of tackling financial toxicity in cancer care and the critical role of patient navigators in the journey toward recovery. The visit was part of the broader Biden Cancer Moonshot initiative, aimed at revolutionizing cancer research and care to ultimately defeat the disease.

Biden, speaking to leaders of Advocate Health, Atrium Health Levine Cancer – including the Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center – the National Cancer Institute and local government, emphasized the commitment of the Biden administration to reduce the burden of cancer. 

“I know when people hear the word cancer, that’s the last thing you hear,” Biden said. “It’s so important we find a way to help patients afford their cancer treatments.” 

Financial toxicity refers to the financial hardship resulting from medical treatment and lost wages, affecting patients' immediate and long-term stability – including the potential loss of jobs and employer-sponsored health insurance as a result of missed work. It's an issue that particularly plagues cancer patients, who have nearly three times the likelihood of declaring bankruptcy compared to those without cancer. 

The first lady highlighted that younger patients face even higher bankruptcy rates, with a staggering 80% higher mortality rate among cancer patients who go bankrupt.

According to IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, the median cost for new oncology medicines is $260,000 per year. The report notes 44% of new cancer drug launches over the past five years exceed $200,000 in annual costs for patients. 

“If they’re saying to you, you can try this medicine but it’s $1,000 a week or a month, and it’s for your mom, who’s going to say, ‘I’m sorry mom we’re not going to buy that for you,’” Biden said. 

“Cancer is a thief,” said Dr. Ruben Mesa, president of Atrium Health Levine Cancer and executive director of the Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center. “It steals from our patients and their loved ones both length of life and quality of life.

“We understand the battle against cancer is fought on multiple fronts. It's not just about the clinical fight, but also about ensuring our patients can access care without the added stress of financial ruin,” Mesa explained. “Our financial navigation programs and the Financial Toxicity Tumor Board are just some of the ways we're working to lessen the load for our patients and their families.”

The visit also shone a light on the vital role of patient navigators, who identify barriers to care such as transportation, childcare and financial issues, and facilitate referrals to mitigate these barriers. Levine Cancer’s programs utilize navigators who have specific disease and health equity focuses, improving outcomes and decreasing health inequities in the process.

“Defeating cancer is a team sport,” Mesa added. “We seek to care for individuals as we would want our own family members to be cared for. We call it the ‘loved one standard,’ where our cancer patient navigators are the glue in the physical journey cancer patients follow.”

Biden praised Atrium Health’s compassionate and comprehensive approach to care. 

"I’m so thankful for what you do here, and I’m so thankful to Joe,” Biden said. “After our son died, we had to find purpose. That’s the only way you can take something so devastating and turn it into good.

“The patient navigators at Atrium Health Levine Cancer exemplify the kind of support and advocacy we believe is essential for every cancer patient across the country. By addressing everything from transportation to financial barriers, these navigators ensure that patients can focus on what's most important: their health," she said.

One of Atrium Health’s pilot programs addressing financial burdens found that patient anxiety about costs decreased in 33% of patients who participated, highlighting the impact of navigators who help with both treatment planning and financial concerns. Atrium Health is committed to expanding these services, aiming to improve access to care, especially in rural and regional locations, and supporting at-risk populations.

At a recent board of commissioners meeting, Atrium Health outlined the ability to enhance health care access and services by making significant improvements to its financial assistance program, which prevented over $100 million in patient medical debt. The program, noted for its comprehensive coverage and efficiency, has positioned Atrium Health as a leader in financial assistance nationwide, with over 138,000 patients receiving 100% charity care in the past year alone.

The health system reported nearly $9.3 billion in net operating revenue for 2023, exceeding budgeted expectations. In addition to providing $2.8 billion in free and uncompensated care and other community benefits last year, Atrium Health invested $681 million in capital projects and technology advancements. These investments include the construction of new facilities and the introduction of cutting-edge cancer treatment technologies – including new capabilities for proton beam therapy and, soon, gamma knife radiosurgery. The Atrium Health Levine Cancer Proton & Advanced Radiation Center began seeing patients in January. 

“We are here in this battle with you,” said Eugene A. Woods, chief executive officer of Advocate Health, of which Atrium Health is a part. 

Speaking to Biden on the critical importance of the administration's efforts to partner with health systems like Atrium Health, Woods added “we are with you to the moon and to the stars as we look to make this a cancer-free nation.” 

The gathering had some heartfelt moments, as several of the speakers detailed their own personal losses and experiences with cancer. One such moment happened at the end of the event, as Biden specifically recognized Sandra Levine in the audience and invited her forward. Biden specifically thanked Levine for her family’s philanthropic support for cancer research and its impact at Atrium Health Levine Cancer. 

In closing, Biden commended Atrium Health leaders, stating “you’re leading us. We thank you for that.”