One critical approach to reducing health disparities is increasing access to affordable health care. Lisa joined Dr. Lori Pierce, the current President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), to jointly author an editorial for this year’s Urban One Engaging Black America on the importance of removing barriers to care.
The Case for Increasing Access to Medicaid
As of January 2014, states have the option to offer comprehensive health care coverage to low-income, uninsured individuals through their state Medicaid programs. However, a recent White House report found that millions of uninsured Americans continue to lack access to health care coverage because a number of state lawmakers and/or governors have chosen not to broaden access to Medicaid.
These millions of uninsured individuals, many of whom cannot afford lifesaving cancer screenings or treatments on their own, stand to gain affordable health coverage if state lawmakers would simply accept federal funds already set aside for their state to improve access to Medicaid. The White House report estimates that if the 24 states that have thus far refused the federal funds would increase access to their programs, they could provide 214,000 additional women access to mammograms and 345,000 additional women access to Pap tests. These states are missing a tremendous opportunity to reduce the health and economic burden of chronic diseases such as cancer.
One such state is Maine. Over the past two years, the members of the Maine Legislature have passed legislation five times authorizing the state to increase access to quality, affordable health coverage to an estimated 70,000 more low-income Mainers. However, Governor Paul LePage has vetoed each of these bills – vetoes the legislature has failed to override. ACS CAN has been working tirelessly in Maine to help thousands of the state’s most vulnerable residents gain the peace of mind that comes with knowing they can see a doctor regularly and access potentially lifesaving cancer screenings and treatments if needed. ACS CAN staff and volunteers testified at legislative hearings, met individually with lawmakers and highlighted the importance of increasing access to health coverage through Medicaid in the media. We will continue these efforts until the tens of thousands of low-income, uninsured Mainers have access to the health coverage they need.
The debate over whether to increase access to health care through Medicaid isn’t about politics, it’s about people’s lives. American Cancer Society research shows that the uninsured are more likely than those with health coverage to be diagnosed with late-stage cancer and less likely to survive the disease. Too often, uninsured individuals are forced to put off needed care because of the cost. They rely on emergency rooms or free or low-cost health clinics for sporadic care. For someone managing a chronic disease such as cancer, this type of patchwork medicine usually results in poor health outcomes, and the resulting uncompensated care is a huge economic drain on states and the country as a whole.
ACS CAN staff and volunteers have had some hard-fought victories this year in states like New Hampshire and Arkansas, and made important progress educating lawmakers about the critical importance of increasing access to coverage in several other states including Montana and Virginia. New Hampshire passed a bill in March to provide nearly 42,000 of the state’s most vulnerable residents with access to health coverage through private insurance plans. Also in March, Arkansas’ legislature voted to continue funding for the state’s private option, which allows the state to use the federal funds to purchase private insurance for low-income Arkansans.
These victories are something to celebrate, but there is a lot more work to be done to ensure the nearly six million people who deserve quality health care don’t continue to go without critical care.