Chris Hansen, ACS CAN President

A Blog From the ACS CAN President

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2018 Midterm Elections Result in Critical Public Policy Advances in the Fight Against Cancer

November 13, 2018

Last Tuesday marked a significant day in our country as we elected officeholders at all levels of government and voted on ballot measures that will impact communities nationwide. Voters made it clear that health care was a defining issue in this election, and that they consider fighting cancer and preserving and expanding access to health care top priorities. The shift in the make-up of the House of Representatives indicates that future efforts to undermine patient protections in the current health care law will likely be unsuccessful and focus should shift to improving the current health care system, ensuring that cancer patients and survivors maintain access to affordable, quality coverage.

By supporting initiatives that implement policies proven to reduce the cancer burden and electing leaders committed to protecting health care coverage for patients with serious illnesses, the nation is poised to bring us closer to a day where cancer is no longer a life-threatening diagnosis. Despite some missed opportunities, millions of families who have been affected by cancer made their voices heard and showed their commitment to defeating this disease with evidence-based public policies.

Increasing Access to Health Coverage Through Medicaid

Voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah approved ballot measures to increase access to health coverage through Medicaid, a victory that will extend affordable, quality health care to an estimated 300,000 people across the three states. With access to care being one of the most significant determining factors of whether someone will survive a cancer diagnosis, this move will prove to be lifesaving. These hard-won victories in these three states show ensuring individuals have access to health coverage is a priority for voters.

Unfortunately, in Montana, Big Tobacco beat back a similar lifesaving measure, spending at least $23 million, approximately $72 per Montana voter, to defeat Initiative 185 and prevent a significant state tobacco tax increase of $2 per pack of cigarettes. This measure was also an opportunity fund Medicaid expansion which to maintain essential health coverage to over 100,000 low-income Montanans to ensure they have access to lifesaving care, while also reducing tobacco use and preventing kids from ever becoming addicted – a win-win for the health of Montanans. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) volunteers and staff will not be deterred and will continue advocating for policies proven to save lives in their state.

In addition to these ballot initiatives, changes in leadership in a number of states could also mean more individuals gaining access to health coverage through Medicaid is on the horizon. In Maine, the departure of Governor LePage, who actively blocked increasing access to Medicaid despite voters’ passage of the measure in a referendum in 2017, should pave the way for this measure to finally move forward, saving lives and money for the state. Similarly, the Kansas legislature had previously passed a bill to increase access to Medicaid that was later vetoed by outgoing Governor Brownback. With a new governor-elect, there could be renewed opportunities for Kansans who need access to health care through Medicaid.

Tobacco Taxes and Smoke-Free Laws

Ballot initiatives to reduce tobacco use were met with varied success across the country. The passage of Amendment 9 in Florida adds electronic cigarettes to the state’s existing smoke-free law and prohibits the use of these products in indoor workplaces, protecting Floridians’ right to breathe clean air and helping to ensure no one has to choose between their health and a paycheck. Unfortunately, the tobacco industry deceived Missouri voters in St. Louis and St. Charles counties into passing so-called “smoke-free” laws that the industry knows are too weak to be effective. In reality, the measures do little more than prevent proven, comprehensive smoke-free policies from being passed and implemented that would actually protect all employees from the cancer-causing toxins found in secondhand smoke while at work.

The public health community in Avon, Colorado is celebrating the passage of their ballot initiative 2B which passed on Tuesday and will raise the price of cigarettes by $3 per pack and increase the cost of other tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, by 40 percent. This move will not only help reduce smoking and smoking-related diseases like cancer, it will also provide fiscal support to the community.

South Dakota, similar to Montana, saw the tobacco industry dig deep into their pockets, dumping $6.5 million into advertising in the state to defeat IM 25, a potentially lifesaving $1-per-pack increase on cigarettes statewide. For a measure that was expected to save the state $150 million in long-term health care costs, not to mention the lives it could have saved, it’s disappointing that Big Tobacco’s influence persevered. This defeat was certainly not for lack of valiant effort, as ACS CAN staff and volunteers dedicated significant time and energy to supporting this cancer-fighting policy. They will continue working with lawmakers to reduce the scourge of tobacco in their state in 2019.

Sugary Drink Taxes

On the ballot in both Washington and Oregon were measures strongly supported by the sugary drink industry that override local governments’ ability to pass sugary drink taxes that aim to reduce obesity rates and risk of cancer. While Oregon voters saw through the attempt to impede cancer-fighting efforts and defeated the measure, a similar initiative passed in Washington, preempting local communities’ ability to reduce cancer risk and improve the health of their state.

Across the nation, ACS CAN advocates persevered against tough opposition to support public policies proven to reduce suffering caused by cancer. With roughly one in three Americans diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, the 2018 midterm elections gave us an opportunity to have a lasting impact on the health of our country. I thank every volunteer, staff member and advocate who championed these important causes and supported our fight against cancer.