Each year, roughly 70,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 39 are diagnosed with cancer. It’s a key statistic that has flown largely under the radar. It’s key because this particular group of cancer patients don’t qualify for many of the government relief programs that are available to help children, the elderly, low-income, and disabled cancer patients.
Of particular concern for this age group could be the heavy burden of student loan debt, which is not sustainable for cancer patients undergoing treatment. Many are forced into forbearance or default, effectively ruining their chances of financial recovery following their medical recovery. However, recent legislation introduced to Congress seeks to remedy that situation.
Legislative Relief for Cancer Victims
H.R. 2976 – The Deferment for Active Cancer Treatment Act of 2017, calls for federal student loan borrowers to be eligible for deferment while they are receiving treatment for cancer. The act will cover all federal student loans made on or after the enactment of the law and loans that are in repayment as of the date of enactment. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) on behalf of Critical Mass, an organization that advocates for the adolescent and young adult cancer community. Its mission is to advance policies that will transform cancer care and delivery systems to better serve the adolescent and young adult cancer victims and their survivors.
According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death for this age group. To make matters worse, cancer victims in this age group have a lower survival rate in more than half of cancers as compared with older and younger patients with the same diagnoses. Yet, adolescents and young adults literally fall through the cracks of a cancer care system that is primarily designed to care for older adults and young children. Although this bill only addresses one aspect of their lives, it can have a significant impact on the ability of student borrowers to cope financially and mentally with life after cancer.
Opening the Door for Deferment
Currently, student borrowers undergoing cancer treatment have limited options in dealing with their loan payments. Under current law, their condition does not qualify for deferment. To be eligible for deferment they must either be enrolled in an eligible postsecondary school, unemployed, receiving rehabilitation for a disability, serving active duty in the military or National Guard, or experiencing a financial hardship. If they don’t meet any of those eligibility requirements their only other option is forbearance.
The difference between deferment and forbearance can be significant in the ability of student borrowers to cope financially. Loan deferment is much more preferable because the interest doesn’t continue to accrue during the period payments are deferred. Forbearance is a temporary pause in loan repayments, but the interest continues to accrue. Forbearance is often chosen as an option because it is easier to qualify for; however, it is difficult for many student borrowers to overcome the mounting loan interest while in forbearance, and it is made much more difficult when borrowers have to put their lives on hold to go through expensive cancer treatments. The new law would simply add cancer treatment as a qualifying condition for deferment.
In trying to reduce the national delinquency rate, which has ticked up to 11.5 percent, Congress would be well-served to pass the Deferment for Active Cancer Treatment Act. As of the end of September, the bill has yet to make it to the floor, but it does have strong bipartisan support.
Author: Jeff Gitlen
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