From the Journals

Insurance is a matter of life or death for lymphoma patients



Having health insurance can mean the difference between life and death for patients with follicular lymphoma, suggest results of a study showing that patients with private health insurance had nearly twofold better survival outcomes than patients without insurance or those who were covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

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A review of records on more than 43,000 patients with follicular lymphoma (FL) in a national cancer registry showed that, compared with patients under age 65 with private insurance, the hazard ratios (HR) for death among patients in the same age bracket with either no insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare were, respectively, 1.96, 1.83, and 1.96 (P less than .0001 for each comparison).

“Our study finds that insurance status contributes to survival disparities in FL. Future studies on outcomes in FL should include insurance status as an important predictor,” Christopher R. Flowers, MD, of Emory University in Atlanta and his colleagues wrote in Blood.

“Further research on prognosis for FL should examine the impact of public policy, such as the passage of the [Affordable Care Act], on FL outcomes, as well as examine other factors that influence access to care, such as individual-level socioeconomic status, regular primary care visits, access to prescription medications, and care affordability,” they added.

The investigators noted that earlier research found that patients with Medicaid or no insurance were more likely than privately-insured patients to be diagnosed with cancers at advanced stages, and that some patients with aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphomas have been shown to have insurance-related disparities in treatments and outcomes.

To see whether the same could be true for patients with indolent-histology lymphomas such as FL, they extracted data from the National Cancer Database, a nationwide hospital-based cancer registry sponsored jointly by the American College of Surgeons and the American Cancer Society.

They identified a total of 43,648 patients aged 18 years or older who were diagnosed with FL from 2004 through 2014. They looked at both patients 18-64 years and those 65 years and older to account for changes in insurance with Medicare eligibility.

Overall survival among patients younger than age 65 was significantly worse for patients with public insurance (Medicaid or Medicare) or no insurance in Cox proportional hazard models controlling for available data on sociodemographic factors and prognostic indicators.

However, compared with patients aged 65 and older with private insurance, only patients with Medicare as their sole source of insurance had significantly worse overall survival (HR, 1.28; P less than .0001).

Patients who were uninsured or had Medicaid were more likely than others to have lower socioeconomic status, present with advanced-stage disease, have systemic symptoms, and have multiple comorbidities that persisted after controlling for known sociodemographic and prognostic factors.

The investigators found that, among patients under age 65, those with a comorbidity score of 1 had an HR for death of 1.71, compared with patients with no comorbidities, and that patients with a score of 2 or greater had a HR of 3.1 (P less than .0001 for each comparison).

“The findings of the study indicate that improving access to affordable, quality health care may reduce disparities in survival for those currently lacking coverage,” the investigators wrote.

The study was supported by Emory University, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Dr. Flowers reported financial relationships with AbbVie, Spectrum, Celgene, and several other companies. The other authors reported having nothing to disclose.

SOURCE: Goldstein JS et al. Blood. 2018 Jul 24. doi: 10.1182/blood-2018-03-839035.

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