Health care policy and cancer survivorship


  • Katherine S. Virgo PhD, MBA,

    Corresponding author
    1. Health Services Research Program, Intramural Research Department, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia
    2. Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
    • Corresponding author: Katherine S. Virgo, PhD, MBA, Department of Health Policy and Management, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, 1360 Stephens Drive NE, Atlanta, GA 30329; Fax: (404) 965-1556; Email:

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  • Julia L. Bromberek MSPH,

    1. Health Services Research Program, Intramural Research Department, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia
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  • Adam Glaser DM,

    1. Department of Pediatric Oncology and Hematology, Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust, Leeds, United Kingdom
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  • Denis Horgan LLM, MSC,

    1. Office of the Executive Director, European Alliance for Personalized Medicine, Brussels, Belgium
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  • Jane Maher PhD, FRCP,

    1. Macmillan Cancer Support and Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, Mount Vernon Hospital, Northwood, Middlesex, United Kingdom
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  • Otis W. Brawley MD

    1. Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
    2. Office of the Chief Medical Officer, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia
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  • European-American Dialogues on Cancer Survivorship: Current Perspectives and Emerging Issues

  • This supplement was guest edited by Vittorio Mattioli, MD (NCRC, Bari, Italy) and Kevin Stein, PhD (American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia) and was produced with the authoritative contribution of 58 authors from the European Union and the United States. The primary aims are to highlight the potential differences between European and American approaches to cancer survivors' issues, increase coordination among oncologists and other primary care providers, and aid the development of a shared care model that can improve the quality of cancer care.

  • The opinions or views expressed in this supplement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the journal editors, the American Cancer Society, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., or the National Cancer Research Centre Istituto Tumori “Giovanni Paolo II” Bari.


The United States and the European Union (EU) vary widely in approaches to ensuring affordable health care coverage for our respective populations. Such variations stem from differences in the political systems and beliefs regarding social welfare. These variations are also reflected in past and future initiatives to provide high quality cancer survivorship care. The United States spends considerably more on health care compared to most European countries, often with no proven benefit. In the United States, individuals with chronic illnesses, such as cancer survivors, often experience difficulties affording insurance and maintaining coverage, a problem unknown to EU countries with national health insurance. This article reviews health policy development over time for the United States and EU and the impact for cancer survivors. For the United States, the impact of the Affordable Care Act on improving access to affordable care for cancer survivors is highlighted. For the EU, the importance of multiple-morbidity disease management, cancer plan development, and pan-European data collection for monitoring cancer outcomes is addressed. Given predicted workforce shortages and ever-increasing numbers of aging cancer survivors on both sides of the Atlantic, sharing lessons learned will be critical. Cancer 2013;119(11 suppl):2187-99. © 2013 American Cancer Society.


Unlike major European countries, the United States has never had a national health insurance program. Prior to the 1930s, there was virtually no health insurance in the United States other than limited coverage to replace lost wages due to illness or accident. In the early 1930s, insurance plans were born as individual hospitals as well as groups of hospitals within communities began offering plans. Commercial plans developed independently, but scope of coverage and amounts reimbursed for both types of plans were largely controlled by doctors and hospitals with no limits on amounts charged.[1] Costs slowly began rising and have risen more rapidly than real wages over time in the United States, although many attempts have been made to slow the growth rate. Compared with other countries worldwide, the United States currently ranks second highest at 16.2% (behind Malta at 16.5%) in total health expenditures as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), double that of a European country such as Germany at 8.1%.[2]

With such a high percentage of GDP devoted to health care, one might expect that the United States would perform exceedingly well on leading indicators of the health of its people. Unfortunately, there are wide disparities in access to health care services due to the fragmented nature of the US health care system. The US infant mortality rate is 5.98 per 1000 live births (49th when countries are ranked from best to worst) compared with the European Union (EU) as a whole at 4.49 (ranked 33rd) and Germany at 3.51 (ranked 15th). Life expectancy at birth in the United States is 78.5 years, 50th when countries are ranked from best to worst, compared with the EU at 79.8 (ranked 36th) and Germany at 80.2 (ranked 28th).[2]

To address inadequacies of the US health care system, comprehensive, sweeping health care reform has been attempted multiple times, beginning with attempts by the administrations of presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt as part of Social Security in 1935 and Harry Truman in 1945, who attempted to create a post–World War II system similar to the United Kingdom's newly formed National Health Service (NHS).[1-3] The most recent failed health care reform attempt was President William Clinton's Health Security Act in 1993.[4] Strong opposition from such groups as physicians, hospitals, the insurance industry, and the pharmaceutical industry were the primary reason for these failed attempts.

This is not to say that there have not been major triumphs along the way. It is important to remember that health policy changes in the United States have generally taken place very slowly over time and usually in small steps.[5] Very briefly, examples of this incremental approach to policy-making include major pieces of legislation such as the Social Security Amendment of 1965, which established the Medicare and Medicaid programs (providing coverage for the elderly, disabled, and the poor), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (limiting exclusions for preexisting medical conditions when workers change or lose jobs and establishing health privacy standards), and the State Children's Health Insurance Program of 1997 (providing health insurance coverage for children who do not qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford private insurance; reauthorized in 2009 as CHIP).[7-10] In addition, separate programs of care exist for active and retired military personnel and their families, veterans of foreign wars who have service-connected injuries or qualify for coverage based on a means test, and Native Americans.[11-13] For individuals in need of care, no simple roadmap exists for this fragmented system of entitlement programs and private insurance options to facilitate ease of understanding eligibility and coverage issues as well as navigation. Current estimates indicate that 49.4 million Americans of all ages (16.3%) are uninsured and 29 million (16% of adults 19 to 64 years old) are underinsured.[14, 15]

However, on March 23, 2010, the quest for sweeping health care reform, to include an expansion of health care coverage to an increasing number of uninsured individuals, was finally successful with the signing into law of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by President Barack Obama.[16] There were several challenges to the law with the Supreme Court finally agreeing to hear Florida v HHS.[17] However, on June 27, 2012, the constitutionality of ACA was upheld, although the Court ruling does not permit the federal government to withhold current Medicaid funds from states that choose not to participate in the Medicaid expansion.[18]

In the first half of the article, Virgo, Bromberek, and Brawley provide a brief overview of the major implications of ACA for the 13 million cancer survivors in the United States today.[19] More in-depth information regarding these and many other ACA provisions is available at and[20, 21] In the second half of the article, Glaser, Horgan, and Maher provide a review of European policy initiatives in general as well as those that directly affect cancer survivors.


The following critical patient protections are already in place, if not fully at least in part, making insurance coverage more affordable for cancer survivors and increasing access to proven preventive services. Those provisions to be rolled out in future years will be discussed separately.

Coverage for Preexisting Conditions

In an American Cancer Society (ACS) Cancer Action Network poll conducted just after the ACA became law, 16% of households affected by cancer reported that a preexisting condition precluded enrollment in an insurance plan and was the reason for their uninsured status.[22] Separate provisions of ACA address this issue for children under age 19 years and adults. New health plans enrolling patients after September 23, 2010, and covering children can no longer exclude, limit, or deny coverage solely on the basis of health problems, such as cancer, or disabilities developed prior to applying for coverage.

For adults, the preexisting condition issue is addressed in 2 phases. Effective August 1, 2010, adults who had been uninsured for at least 6 months and denied coverage for a preexisting condition such as cancer became eligible for health insurance coverage through temporary high-risk health insurance pools funded entirely by the federal government. Access is generally provided to comprehensive major medical plans that include coverage for services such as prescription drugs, human immunodeficiency virus–related care, and mental health services. Total out-of-pocket costs cannot exceed 35% of the covered benefit cost, exclusive of premiums. Premiums cannot exceed 100% of the federal standard risk rate and cannot vary by age by a ratio of more than 4 to 1. For example, if the premium for a person aged 25 years is $400, then the premium for a person aged 62 years cannot exceed $1600.[21, 23] These high-risk health insurance pools, termed Preexisting Condition Insurance Plans (PCIPs), will be phased out on January 1, 2014, when state health exchanges become available. PCIPs can be run by either the state or federal government, and 23 states chose federal government–run PCIPs. Five billion dollars was set aside to support the program.[21, 24]

Rescinding Coverage

Once an individual has enrolled in a health plan, that plan cannot cancel coverage except in cases of fraud. Thus, patients diagnosed with cancer after attaining health coverage will no longer be at risk of losing vital health coverage (effective with health plan years beginning September 23, 2010).

Lifetime and Annual Dollar Limits on Coverage

Cancer survivors also benefit from the new ban on lifetime dollar limits on essential benefits when enrolling in new health plans after September 23, 2010. Essential benefits, to be further defined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, include ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use services, prescription drug, rehabilitation services, laboratory services, preventive and wellness services, long-term disease management, and pediatric services (including oral and vision care).

In less than 2 years, cancer survivors will benefit from the total ban on annual dollar limits on coverage for essential services which takes effect in January 2014. In the interim, cancer survivors will benefit from provisions in ACA that regulate the value of these limits. The minimum coverage limit was originally set at $750,000 for new plan enrollment during September 23, 2010, through September 23, 2011. The current minimum coverage limit through September 23, 2012, is $1.25 million, after which it will increase to $2 million and remain there until the total ban on limits takes effect on January 1, 2014.[21]

Access to Proven Preventive Services

Access to proven preventive services is vitally important to ensuring early detection and treatment of disease and decreasing mortality. ACA reduces long-standing barriers to the use of preventive services by making such services more affordable. Under ACA, all proven preventive services such as mammograms, colonoscopies, Papanicolaou tests, and pelvic examinations must be offered at no cost (termed first-dollar coverage) to patients enrolled in new insurance plans (after September 23, 2010) seeing in-network providers and individuals enrolled in Medicare.

As of January 1, 2013, states have the option of including in their Medicaid programs an extension of first-dollar coverage for all preventive services with US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) A or B recommendations.[25] (Preventive services recommended by the ACS differ in some circumstances from those recommended by the USPSTF. ACS guidelines are generally more comprehensive and address high-risk populations that the USPSTF often does not.) In return for providing these optional services without cost sharing, states will receive a 1% increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (the federal government's contribution to covering the costs of providing Medicaid services).[21, 24]

The ACA includes $11 billion in increased funding over 5 years for Community Health Centers and the National Health Service Corps, a provision that will assist some of the nation's most vulnerable patients. In 2011, $250 million was made available to support the establishment of 250 new community health centers. These centers provide coordinated primary and preventive services and serve as a “medical home,” promoting reductions in health disparities for underserved populations such as low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, and rural communities.[26]

Extending Coverage for Dependent Children to Age 26

Prior to the passage of ACA, once a dependent child with cancer reached the age of 19 years, many insurance policies no longer permitted parents to retain these young adults on their insurance policies. Effective with health plan years beginning September 23, 2010, ACA now allows these young adults to remain on their parents' insurance policy up to age 26, regardless of school enrollment status, marital status, eligibility for coverage at work, level of financial dependence/independence, or whether residing with their parents or not. “Grandfathered” group plans are the only temporary exclusion to this rule, but this exclusion will expire in 2014. Young adults who remain on their parents' insurance policies are entitled to all the same benefit packages made available to similarly situated individuals who did not lose coverage because of cessation of dependent status and cannot be required to pay more for coverage.[27]

This is a vitally important provision for young adults, because they have the highest uninsured rate (31%) of any age group, almost 3 times higher than the uninsured rate for children and almost twice the rate for nonelderly adults aged 30 to 64 years. Young adults have higher uninsured rates than older adults in all work status categories because they tend to work in entry-level or part-time jobs that do not provide health insurance. Given these high rates of uninsurance, it is not surprising that almost two-thirds of young adults have no usual source of care.[28] For young adult cancer survivors who choose to remain on their parents' insurance policies, ACA thus reduces the barriers to continued access to care for late and long-term effects of cancer as well as surveillance for new disease.

Prescription Drug Coverage for Medicare Beneficiaries

Prescription drug costs continue to be a major issue facing Medicare beneficiaries, even with the availability of Medicare Part D coverage beginning on January 1, 2006, which improved prescription drug accessibility and affordability for seniors. Prior to ACA, annual out-of-pocket costs included $310 in coinsurance as well as a deductible of 25% on up to $2830 in total drug costs. Beneficiaries then entered a coverage gap known as the “donut hole” where beneficiaries incurred 100% of the costs of all drugs up to $6448 in total drug costs. Only after incurring total out-of-pocket costs of approximately $4538 were Medicare beneficiaries eligible for catastrophic coverage, with the government covering all remaining costs in that year. Under ACA, seniors in the donut hole received a $250 rebate in 2010 and a 50% discount on covered brand-name drugs in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, seniors received a 7% discount on generics and a 14% discount on generics in 2012. For 2013 and 2014, seniors will receive a 52.5% discount each year on brand-name drugs and 21% and 28% discounts on generics, respectively.[21, 29] The goal for 2020 is that 75% of noncatastrophic prescription drug expenses will be covered for Medicare beneficiaries in the donut hole. In dollar terms, the savings may seem relatively small to some. However, for elderly cancer survivors who are on limited incomes and have high prescription drug expenses, the thousands of dollars per year in out-of-pocket costs saved is critically important.[30]


All ACA provisions discussed below are scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2014. As with the earlier discussion of provisions that are already under way, highlighted below are those provisions with the greatest impact for patients with cancer.

Clinical Trials Participation

Prior to ACA, few cancer survivors had full coverage for the costs of both routine care and complications arising from participating in a clinical trial beyond those costs already covered by the clinical trial sponsors. A Medicare Coverage Determination in 2001[31] in response to an Institute of Medicine report[32] provided coverage for Medicare beneficiaries. Mandates in 26 states provided varying levels of coverage for individuals enrolled in health plans. Specifically, these mandates did not cover all clinical trials, and employer-sponsored self-insurance plans in these states were exempt from the mandates.[33, 34]

Under ACA, all commercial health insurance plans offering group or individual coverage, health plans offered through the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), employer-sponsored self-insured plans operating under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), and state self-insured plans will be required to pay for routine patient care costs associated with participation in phase 1 to phase 4 clinical trials for life-threatening diseases such as cancer, including those trials conducted out of state.[20] All beneficiaries referred for participation in the trial by an in-network health care professional or who have themselves provided medical information demonstrating that they meet trial eligibility requirements for a life-threatening disease will be eligible for this coverage.[35]

Insurance Exchanges

As described in the introduction, identifying a source of affordable health insurance in the United States can be challenging, particularly if a cancer survivor's employer does not offer insurance and the individual does not qualify for an entitlement program such as Medicare or Medicaid. Under ACA, patients without access to qualified insurance through one of these programs or their employer will have the option of purchasing coverage through state- or region-specific American Health Benefit Exchanges operated by either the state or the federal government. The federal government will operate the exchange if a state chooses not to. The exchanges will provide seamless one-stop shopping with a single application form for coverage determinations. Applicants will be notified whether they qualify for a premium subsidy or are eligible for Medicaid. Plan options will be available online in a standardized format and permit estimation of plan costs.[21, 24]

Plans participating in the exchange must cover the essential health benefits package, as discussed previously. Each exchange must offer at least a silver- and gold-level health insurance plan. Silver-level plans cover 70% of the health costs for a standard population covered by the plan (actuarial value), whereas gold-level plans cover 80% of costs. Bronze- and platinum-level plans may also be offered, covering 60% and 90% of costs, respectively. Premiums increase with actuarial value, and plans with low actuarial values tend to have higher deductible and copayment requirements.[21, 24]

As of March 21, 2013, 17 states (California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Montana, Colorado, Hawaii, New York, Vermont, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland) and the District of Columbia had declared intent to establish an exchange.[36] Seven states (New Hampshire, West Virginia, Delaware, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, and Arkansas) have announced decisions to partner with the federal government to establish an exchange. The remaining 26 states have defaulted to a federally run exchange. Exchange enrollment begins October 1, 2013 with coverage to begin January 1, 2014. It is estimated that 28 million individuals will enroll in the exchanges.[37]

Effective January 1, 2014, each state must also establish a Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Exchange for small employers with up to 100 employees. (Until 2016, states can choose to limit participation to employers with 50 or fewer employees.) Typically, many small employers simply cannot afford to offer employee health benefits. The SHOP Exchanges are designed to assist small businesses in enrolling their employees in qualified health insurance plans within the state. After 2017, the SHOP can be expanded to permit participation of businesses with more than 100 employees. The states have the option of operating a single exchange to meet both the American Health Benefit Exchange requirement and the SHOP requirement.[21]

Tax Credits and Reductions in Out-of-Pocket Caps

Although the health exchanges will provide a wider range of plan options for cancer survivors who do not currently qualify for access to an entitlement program, there is still the issue of out-of-pocket costs, such as premiums and deductibles. Under ACA, tax credits will be made available to those with incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL), ie, $23,050 to $92,200 for a family of 4,[38] who are not eligible for affordable health insurance coverage. In order for individuals with employer-sponsored coverage to qualify for the tax credits, the annual plan premium must exceed 9.5% of annual income or employer coverage of the premium must be less than 60%. The tax credits will be on a sliding scale ranging from 2% of income for those at 100% FPL to 9.5% of income for those at 300% to 400% FPL.[21] Tax credits equaling up to 50% of total premium cost (35% through 2013) will also be available for small businesses with fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees, average annual wages of less than $50,000, and coverage of at least 50% of employee health insurance premiums. These credits are meant to encourage the provision of health insurance as a benefit of employment.[21]

To further assist low-income individuals with affording health insurance, the usual out-of-pocket maximums ($5950 for individuals and $11,900 for families in 2011, to be indexed in following years) are reduced by 66% for those with household incomes below 200% of FPL, 50% for those with incomes between 200% and 300% of FPL, and 33% for those with incomes between 300% and 400% of FPL. The usual out-of-pocket maximums pertain to the sum of the annual deductible and other annual out-of-pocket expenses for covered benefits, other than payments for premiums.[21]

Insurance Mandate

Under ACA, cancer survivors who can afford it will be required to buy health insurance or pay a fee to offset the cost of caring for uninsured Americans. Individuals can apply for an exemption based on religious beliefs or low income and the absence of affordable insurance. In addition to the Medicaid expansion to be discussed next, this component of ACA was one of the most fiercely debated and was one of the reasons the Supreme Court was called upon to rule on the constitutionality of the legislation.

The government mandate impacts multiple stakeholder groups in the health care arena (not just the currently uninsured) and was viewed as crucial to the success of the health exchanges. Health exchange plans cannot hope to break even or achieve slim profit margins if only the very sick enroll (adverse selection), particularly within the cost-sharing limits under which they must operate. A balance of healthy and sick individuals is required for the exchange plans to remain viable. The exchange plans must attract employers as well as individuals if they are to succeed. Employers represent large groups of exactly those basically healthy individuals that the exchange plans seek.[24, 39] A novel component of the exchanges is the use of risk adjusters to incentivize health plans to enroll higher risk populations. Plans would receive higher levels of reimbursement for enrolling more, versus fewer, high-risk individuals.

Medicaid Expansion

January 1, 2014, will be a momentous date for the uninsured in those states that elect to participate in the expansion. In those states, Medicaid will finally become a program for all of the poor who are younger than 65 years with incomes below a particular threshold. Specifically, all individuals in participating states who are younger than 65 years, including children, parents, and nonpregnant childless adults, with family incomes up to 138% of the FPL (including 5% asset disregard) will become eligible for Medicaid.[21] Participating states will receive 100% federal funding for 2014 through 2016, decreasing to 90% by 2020.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, it was predicted that 10.8 million uninsured individuals would transition to Medicaid.[37] It is unclear now how these estimates will change because it is not yet known which states will participate in the expansion and there is no deadline by which a state must decide whether to undertake expansion. However, it is estimated that most individuals with incomes between 100% and 138% of the FPL in states that decline to expand Medicaid or defer expansion will be eligible for subsidized coverage in the health exchanges.[40] States that choose not to participate in the expansion may still maintain existing federal Medicaid funding, but will receive no new funding intended solely for expansion. The enticement of federal funding has traditionally motivated states to expand Medicaid eligibility in previous years. At least in some states, decisions were on hold for a time while awaiting the results of the fall 2012 elections.[41] Though governors in eight states that were previously opposed to Medicaid expansion have now agreed to expand Medicaid, states such as Ohio, Louisiana, Florida, and Arkansas are attempting to build a case that the federal government should permit the use of federal funds to purchase private insurance for newly eligible Medicaid recipients.

A recent survey of state budget directors was conducted by the US Government Accountability Office[42] to determine which aspects of Medicaid expansion would contribute most to costs. The survey revealed concerns regarding administrative capacity for managing new enrollment, acquisition or modification of information technology systems to support expansion, and enrolling previously eligible but not enrolled individuals in Medicaid.


The health care system that cancer survivors must negotiate in the United States has traditionally been a blend of private insurance and entitlement programs, leaving many survivors with little or no access to care. The United States has never had national health insurance to ensure that all citizens have a minimum level of coverage. Such insurance is common in the EU, but is country-specific, and private insurance remains an option for access to newer technologies. Both the EU and the United States recognize that unprecedented health care workforce shortages loom near and have taken steps to begin to address the issue.[43, 44]

The availability of a single data source to permit assessment of the impact of health policy changes is also problematic. Each payer (eg, Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, private insurance companies) maintains its own database, and linking the various databases together is highly problematic due to the lack of common identifiers. Similar issues impact the various cancer registry databases (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results [SEER]-Medicare linked data, North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, National Cancer Data Base) in addition to a primary focus on the period of initial treatment only. National surveys of the United States population (eg, National Health Interview Survey, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, National Hospital Discharge Survey) are each very useful for tracking changes in the general population over time, but have been less useful for data on cancer survivors due to the small number of cancer survivors accrued for such surveys and the recurring problem of lack of common identifiers to permit matching across survey databases.[45, 46]

Prior to the enactment of ACA in the United States, standard general health indicators seemed to suggest better outcomes at lower cost in the EU compared with the United States,[2] although comparisons of cancer-specific outcomes are less decisive. With major health reform currently underway in the United States, the eventual impact on costs and outcomes of care is difficult to predict, although affordability, access to care, and continuity in access seem destined to improve. The Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation currently suggest that ACA has the potential to reduce the number of nonelderly people without health insurance coverage by 26 million to 30 million in 2016 and subsequent years, leaving 29 million to 30 million nonelderly residents uninsured in those years. The price tag is currently estimated at $1.17 trillion over the period 2012 to 2022.[40]

Because of improvements in early detection and treatment and the aging of the population, the number of cancer survivors in the United States is predicted to increase to 18 million by 2022.[19] It is important that cancer survivors have access to necessary treatment, follow-up, and psychosocial support services at the point in time when the services are needed, not 6 months later when an insurance plan finally provides approval for care or the survivor's name eventually rises to the top of a waiting list. As the United States moves toward a system where fewer individuals are uninsured, there is the potential to learn from European models of national health insurance in which care is generally provided free of charge, with the exception of newer, more expensive technologies.


In Europe, health care is increasingly seen as a key component of social welfare, contributing to social cohesion and social justice. Although the EU has no formal jurisdiction in relation to the delivery of health care, health has been mentioned in every treaty from the EU foundation (where Article 15 of the original EU treaty included “a high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all community policies and activities”).[47]

The Maastricht treaty of 1991[48] began to define policies in relation to public health and prevention, with more scope for interstate cooperation in relation to health promotion and information systems. The Lisbon treaty of 2009[49] reinforced the importance of health and the need for interstate cooperation for the prevention of illness, food safety and nutrition, population aging, threats to health, new technology, and reduction of inequalities. It emphasized the fundamental right of citizens to be able to access preventive health care and their right to benefit from medical treatments within the context of national legal frameworks.

At the European policy level, the challenge is to agree on pan-European initiatives which add value in addressing the range of multilevel and complex social factors contributing to health across 27 countries with more than 700 million inhabitants, while still respecting the overarching principle of subsidiary that is the primary authority of individual member states. Hence, there are only indirect possibilities for EU policy to influence cancer survivor care.


The EU estimates a doubling of those over age 65 in the next 50 years, with a cost of 15% to 40% on top of current expenditures just to maintain existing health services.[50] Two in 3 Europeans of retirement age currently have at least 2 chronic conditions, including at least 1 in 3 with a cancer diagnosis. By 2050, it is estimated that the expected increase in spending as a share of GDP could be halved if people lived healthier lives.

Since 2005, there has been more emphasis on quality, rather than length, of life. Healthy Life Years was proposed in 2009 as a key structural indicator.[51] This shift has “direct” relevance for the survivorship agenda and may provide the most appropriate lever to influence EU policy with respect to cancer after-care. Recent cross-sectional studies looking at health indicators in cancer survivors have suggested higher than expected levels of disability, comparable to having a recognized chronic illness. For example, a UK study demonstrated that survivors without either active cancer or any other known long-term condition had the same health and well-being profile as individuals with one known chronic illness, whereas cancer survivors with 1 or 2 other chronic illnesses had the same profile as those with 2 or 3 chronic illnesses, respectively.[52] Treatment related morbidity is increasingly recognized as contributing to reduced “healthy life years,” particularly for those treated as children or young people.[53, 54] Therefore, early intervention, with rehabilitation and lifestyle change, and appropriate follow-up programs after curative cancer treatment have the potential to increase healthy life years.


European Union member states broadly agree on underpinning principles of health care (ie, universal access for all citizens, effective care for better outcomes, efficient use of resources, high-quality services, and responsiveness to patient concerns).[55] The institutional arrangements for funding and delivering services differ depending on history, culture, and political experience. In most European countries, treatment is free of charge for the individual patient, with access to novel drugs and new technologies varying. Increasingly, the private insurance market is seen as a gateway for novel, diagnostic, and therapeutic products to enter the health arena earlier.[56] In addition, private providers are developing more sophisticated rehabilitation and home service programs including for cancer survivorship.

European health care delivery systems are broadly divided into those funded through taxation and those operating with some form of universal social health insurance (SHI) where insurance funds are independent of government. Within these frameworks, the balance of state, employer, and private sector involvement in financing, providing, and regulating health services, and providing access to new drugs and technologies varies between countries. By the early 1980s, more than 90% of the EU population had access to health care either through a tax-based scheme (for example, United Kingdom, Denmark, Portugal, Sweden, and Spain) or a social insurance scheme (Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands). However, most countries also had some form of cost sharing with copayments for some medicines and services.


The majority of health systems are still focused on providing specific interventions to treat acute episodes of single illnesses rather than the prevention and management of today's more intractable chronic illness and multiple comorbidities. Acute sector usage is recognized as too high, and a potential solution is more focus on prevention and management by primary care with more ambulatory care services replacing inpatient care. However, the potential disadvantages of a strong primary care gate-keeping service have also been highlighted in the EuroCare studies, suggesting low 1-year survival rates (a surrogate for late diagnosis) in 2 countries with particularly well-developed primary care gate-keeper services (England and Denmark). Nevertheless, there has been a clear shift to primary care–led health care and more robust commissioning of services (eg, in England). After 10 years of single condition–based frameworks, there is now a push for more focus on chronic illness and multiple-morbidity management and a move toward more integration of state funding of health and social care.[57]


A shared approach to data collection is recognized as key to making meaningful links between cancer outcomes and policy initiatives. Collection of pan-European data remains a particular challenge, amplified by the requirements to preserve the privacy of personal medical records and the lack of electronic health records in many European countries. The establishment of the European Cancer Registry Network in 1989[58] set an important precedent, enabling explicit “benchmarking” in relation to survival after a cancer diagnosis. Benchmarking has been a stimulus to policy in several countries despite the acknowledged differences in coverage. For example, in the United Kingdom and Norway, coverage is nearly 100%, with unique identifiers allowing follow-up for many years, whereas in other European countries coverage may be significantly less with no option for long-term follow-up. By 2008, 24 of 30 European countries reviewed had registries with 100% coverage (Table 1).[59] The exceptions were Greece and Luxembourg with no population registry, France, Italy, and Spain (less than 50% coverage), and Switzerland (62% coverage). The relatively poor UK cancer survival results in the first EuroCare report[60] were a major driver for the UK National Cancer Plan in 2000, which led to the Cancer Reform Strategy in 2007 and eventually to the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative in 2010,[54, 61, 62] as thinking about cancer outcomes became more sophisticated.

Table 1. Coverage of European Cancer Registries
CountryNational Coverage (% Population Covered)No. of RegistriesPopulation (Inhabitants)
  1. Source: Bastos et al.[59]

Czech RepublicYes110,287,189
FranceNo (13.7)1164,057,790
GreeceNo (0.0)
ItalyNo (36.4)2620,722,341
LuxembourgNo (0.0)
SpainNo (26.5)1411,847,964
United KingdomYes1160,209,500
SwitzerlandNo (6.7)104,633,666

The European Partnership for Action against Cancer (EPAAC) in 2009[63] supported the recognized need to develop a common platform to unify cancer burden indicators (incidence, mortality, survival, and prevalence) collected by different countries. Funding from the EU 7th Framework Program (FP7) has enabled extension of registry coverage, establishment of a receipt portal and considerable work on harmonizing the legal and ethical framework in which the registries operate.[64] The European Registry Network remains without substantial permanent funding or existence as a legal entity. Several registries are concerned about the impact of EU privacy legislation which could require informed consent or anonymity, reducing the ability to follow individuals over time using unique identifiers, which is the bedrock of early intervention linkages (eg, effective rehabilitation for cancer recurrence or therapy-related illness in the years following treatment).


Since the peak of public financing in the late 1970s, there has been a trend for a higher involvement of the private sector in a number of European countries, particularly for inpatient care. Between 1970 and 1979, public financing as a percentage of the total health budget grew across Europe. After 1979, private sector involvement in insurance rose, particularly in the Southern European countries where there had not been such an expansion of state funding in the 1970s. Numbers of publicly funded beds began to fall across the EU while the number of privately funded beds remained stable. Different countries have taken different approaches to the issue of cost containment in recent years: Germany and the United Kingdom have increased the gate-keeping primary care model, introduced health-related groups, and applied rigorous health technology assessment. Approximately 8% (84 million citizens) have private health insurance replacing, or in addition to, publicly funded insurance, with a wide range across member states from 12% in the United Kingdom to 90% in France.


A range of strategies for cancer control were discussed in Lisbon in 2003 during the Portuguese presidency, including cancer plans, population-based registries and screening programs for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer.[65] A major European policy landmark was the publication of “Communication on Action against Cancer: European Partnership” by the European Commission in 2009, which highlighted the need for stronger European collaboration to improve outcomes and reduce inequalities.[66] Similarly, the EPAAC in 2009 had the aim of developing a common platform to unify cancer burden indicators (incidence, mortality, survival, and prevalence) collected by different sources.

Importantly, the European Commission urged member states to publish individual cancer plans by 2013 ( Although most of these plans deal largely with prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer, some have an explicit focus on survivorship and/or palliative care including rehabilitation (5 plans), care plans (3 plans) or follow-up care reform (4 plans). Atun et al67 identified 19 European cancer control programs in 2008 and reviewed them in terms of priorities, aims and objectives, actions, resourcing, quality control, time frames, and institutional support. They found that in general situational analysis, objectives and actions were well articulated but resourcing and governance less so. Only 4 countries had both identified resources and stipulated how they were was to be used.

Bastos et al[59] reviewed cancer control programs in Europe in 2008 in 27 European countries plus Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland in 2008. Nine and 7 countries, respectively, had 100% population coverage of breast and cervical cancer screening with participation ranging from 26% to 87%. Notably, 8 countries had no screening programs for either cancer, whereas 6 countries had colorectal cancer screening programs. By 2008, 5 countries had complete bans on smoking in public places and further progress has been made in all these areas since 2008.

There has been steady improvement in survival for several cancers across the EU, but wide variation between countries remains. Some early aims to cut smoking from 28% to 20% in 5 years (eg, in the Netherlands) have proved overambitious, but a number of individual countries have seen cancer plan successes. For example in the United Kingdom, there have been significant reductions in waiting times, reviews by multidisciplinary teams, and improved patient experience.[68]

Which European Health System Delivers the Best Outcomes?

Views regarding which European system delivers the best outcome depend on the perspective of those asking the question. The European Consumer Index 2012,[69] looking through the lens of the consumer, distinguishes “Bismarckian systems” based on social insurance involving a multitude of insurance providers organizationally independent of health care providers (eg, the Netherlands) from “Beveridge systems” where financing and provision is provided by one organization (for example, the UK NHS or the Nordic countries). Countries are judged from the perspective of the consumer in 5 key areas (patient rights and information, accessibility, health outcomes, range and reach of health prevention, and access to pharmaceuticals). Using this scoring system, the Netherlands tops the league table. This is attributed to service provision through a multitude of health insurance providers acting in competition, but separated from health care providers, together with the best and most structured arrangements for patient organization and participation in health care policy-making (Table 2). However, in relation to health outcomes alone (myocardial infarction fatalities, infant deaths, cancer deaths, preventable years of lives lost, methicillin-resistant S. aureus infection, Caesarian section rates, undiagnosed diabetes, and depression), Sweden and Norway come out top across all outcome indicators and these are Beveridge health economies. Similarly, when the Commonwealth Fund Report looked at slightly different outcomes (quality of care, access, efficiency, length of productive life, health expenditure per capita) for 7 countries (Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and United States), the Netherlands came out on top, followed closely by the United Kingdom and Australia.[70] There was no clear trade-off between spending and outcomes. The most expensive service (United States) had poor outcomes in relation to a number of domains.

Table 2. Outcomes for European Countries (European Consumer Index Score)
Patient Rights and InformationAccessibilityOutcomesPrevention/Range and Reach of Services ProvidedPharmaceuticalsTotal ScoreRank
  1. Source: European Consumer Index Report 2012.[69]

Czech Republic1071832251176269415
FYR Macedonia112183113823852730
United Kingdom1601332001468172112


Within the EU, the notion of meeting the needs of an increasing number of cancer survivors is usually framed in terms of the added demands and pressures which result from an aging population with increased unmet health needs. Within this context, there are real opportunities to promote a cancer survivorship agenda. Important pan-European initiatives included in the Innovation Union,[71] such as the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing[72] have the potential to be coordinated with the cancer survivorship agenda, with a reorientation of existing prevention activities around a survivorship population. European Year 2012 on Ageing and Solidarity between Generations[73] aims to add 2 years of life in good health by 2020 with increasing focus on the importance of chronic illness, integrated care, patient empowerment, distance monitoring, and e-health. As with all such European initiatives, less importance is placed on whether particular targets are reached. More emphasis is placed on the commitment of countries to work together to identify common problems related to a range of solutions based on good practice, without changing the primary responsibility of member states, which is to provide for the health of their citizens.

Cancer survivorship has not been prominent in the chronic illness discourse; yet the financial implications of cancer diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and monitoring are beginning to appear in European health discussions. The exciting and genuine opportunity is that transformed cancer aftercare pathways may support a reduction in subsequent chronic illness and number of disabled years before death (with an increase in quality adjusted life years). This may be the lever to influence European nations to invest and support integrated holistic support for the increasingly prevalent population living with and beyond cancer.


The cost of caring for an increasing number of aging cancer survivors is an area of concern for both the United States and the EU. Particularly in the United States where rising health care costs are outpacing real wages, many question whether the money is well spent. Cancer represents the leading cause of death for developed countries.[74] One recent study suggests that, in the case of cancer, higher health spending is worth it. Philipson et al[75] estimated in the aggregate that US survival gains have a value of $61,000 per cancer survivor on average, with the largest gains seen for prostate and breast cancer where new technologies were more rapidly approved for use in the United States than in the EU. Although such results are promising, the study did not specifically focus on the cost-effectiveness of specific tests or treatments; thus, it is unclear which tests or treatments were primarily responsible for the gains in survival. Much additional research remains to be done. In the interim, devoting more than 16% of GDP to health care spending while almost 50 million Americans are uninsured and almost 30 million are underinsured is not sustainable in the United States. Although ACA represents a major step for the United States, much more work is needed to bring health care spending under control. Because both the European Union and the United States struggle with looming health care workforce shortages and increasing demands for care, learning from history and from each other will be critical.


This supplement was sponsored by the National Cancer Research Centre Istituto Tumori “Giovanni Paolo II” Bari (Italy) through the Italian Ministry of Health-funded research project “Multidimensional assessment of long-term cancer survivors including discovery of genetic bases of susceptibility, depressive stage, prevention of affective disorders,” and through intramural funding of the American Cancer Society's Behavioral Research Center and Health Services Research Program.


The authors made no disclosure.