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Medicare Subsidy Helps Breast Cancer Patients Afford Treatment

'Extra Help' program leads to more women on hormone therapy

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 15, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A Medicare subsidy program makes it more likely that breast cancer patients in all racial and ethnic groups will continue hormone therapy after surgery for their cancer, according to research scheduled to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's 2014 Quality Care Symposium, held from Oct. 17 to 18 in Boston.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 23,000 early-stage breast cancer patients who were enrolled in Medicare Part D and began hormone therapy (with tamoxifen, anastrazole, letrozole, or exemestane) within one year of cancer surgery. Of those women, 27 percent were in the Medicare Part D Extra Help low-income subsidy program.

The researchers found that 70 percent of black patients and 56 percent of Hispanic patients were in the Extra Help program, compared with 21 percent of white patients. In the first year of hormone therapy, overall adherence rates were similar across all races -- with around two-thirds of women taking hormone therapy as directed. However, racial and ethnic differences in adherence rates were seen among women who weren't in the Extra Help Program -- 62 percent adherence for whites and 55 percent for Hispanics and blacks. For those in the Extra Help program, adherence rates were 71 percent for whites, 71 percent for Hispanics, and 67 percent for blacks. Overall, the number of patients who continued hormone therapy in the second and third year after surgery decreased, but the decline was smaller among women in all racial and ethnic groups in the Extra Help program.

"Our study shows that federal policy interventions that help cover out-of-pocket costs have the potential to reduce the breast cancer outcome gap by race and ethnicity," lead author Alana Biggers, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of Illinois-Chicago, said in an ASCO news release.

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