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.
Critical Actions to Increase Breast Cancer Screening Rates
While we dedicate the month of October to breast cancer awareness, this past Friday was National Mammography Day. Since its inception in 1993, National Mammography Day has served as a reminder to women to schedule their annual mammogram because early detection saves lives. The Affordable Care Act ensures that most women can receive mammograms at little or no cost starting at age 40, but there are still millions of low-income, uninsured women nationwide with no access to mammograms or other lifesaving cancer screenings. Thousands of these women live in states that have chosen not to increase access to health care through Medicaid. In fact, a White House report released this summer estimated that the 24 states that had refused to accept available federal funds for increasing access to their programs at the time of the report were denying 214,000 additional women access to mammograms and 345,000 additional women access to Pap tests. (Note that since the report was issued, Pennsylvania has decided to accept the federal funds.) ACS CAN staff and volunteers are working to remind these states that they are missing a tremendous opportunity to reduce the health and economic burden of chronic diseases such as cancer. Many more women will have to continue to rely on the CDC's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) to get screened. In fact, even if every state broadened access to Medicaid coverage as the health care law allows them to do, more than 4.5 million women would still be eligible for cervical cancer screening and 1.7 million would be eligible for breast cancer screening through the NBCCEDP. Unfortunately, due to woefully inadequate funding levels, the program can screen only one in 10 of eligible women this year. This program has been immensely successful since it began in 1991 serving 4.6 million women and diagnosing 64,000 breast cancers. In 2013 alone, the NBCCEDP detected nearly 6,000 breast cancers and started treatment on average 14 days after diagnoses thanks to patient navigation and care coordination. The program represents a successful delivery model for cancer care by providing clinical services (including screening, diagnostic testing, and case management), public education and outreach, quality assurance and program evaluation and partnership opportunities for financial resources. But dwindling state and federal funding for this program is closing the door on far too many women, leaving them vulnerable to diagnoses of late-stage cancer, which is harder to treat and survive than cancer caught early. That is why it is critical that ACS CAN and breast cancer advocates continue to educate lawmakers and the public about the need for increased funding at the federal and state levels for this lifesaving program and increased access to health care coverage through Medicaid. With more than 230,000 women and 2,300 men in the U.S. expected to receive a breast cancer diagnosis this year, now is not the time to limit any opportunities for women to get the breast cancer screenings they need. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are making sure that message is heard.