Mariah Forster Olson, an ACS CAN Ambassador Constituent Team Lead (ACT Lead), traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to share her story as a childhood cancer survivor and to advocate on behalf of other patients and survivors during the 2019 Childhood Cancer Action Days.
How Does Your State Measure Up on Policies to Fight Cancer?
How does your state measure up on policies to fight and prevent cancer? Chances are not well. According to a new edition of the ACS CAN report How Do You Measure Up? released today, most state legislatures are missing opportunities to enact laws and policies that could not only save lives, but also generate new revenue and long-term health care savings. This year's report ranks where states stand on nine public policy issues that play a critical role in reducing cancer incidence and death:
- Smoke-free laws
- Cigarette tax rates
- Tobacco prevention and cessation program funding
- Access to tobacco cessation services in Medicaid programs
- Indoor tanning device restrictions for minors
- Breast & cervical cancer early detection program funding
- Pain policies
- Access to palliative care
- Increased access to Medicaid
The report applies a color-coded system to identify how well a state is doing. Green represents the benchmark position, showing that a state has successfully adopted evidence-based policies and best practices. Yellow indicates moderate movement toward the benchmark. Red shows where states are falling short. This year, the best any state did was receive a green rating in six of the nine priority areas, and 25 states have reached the benchmark in only three or fewer areas. Put simply, this is unacceptable. While it's disappointing that more states aren't taking advantage of these opportunities to help reduce the burden of cancer, we have seen two positive trends in the past year. The first is an important recognition of the need for policies that will improve access to and awareness of palliative care services. In the 2015 session alone, five states passed new palliative care legislation Alabama, Texas, Maine, Oklahoma and Oregon that will convene state experts to develop recommendations for how to increase access to palliative care in their state. This doubles the number of states that had passed this legislation as of 2014. Studies conducted in a variety of states including New York and Texas have found that providing palliative care alongside disease-focused treatment in hospitals can reduce costs from approximately $1,700 per patient to nearly $10,000 per patient. This trend in state legislation shows state lawmakers are not only seeing the financial value in increasing access to palliative care, but also the value it provides to patients' and their families' lives by adding life to their days and days to their life. I'm looking forward to seeing the outcome of these state recommendations. Another key trend we are seeing is increasing access to health care in the states through Medicaid. States have the option to accept federal dollars that have already been set aside to provide uninsured people and families with health coverage through Medicaid. To date, 29 states and the District of Columbia have decided to accept the funding thus receiving a green rating in our report and many more states will consider this decision in the 2016 legislative sessions. However, if nothing changes, eight million low-income adults and families below the federal poverty level will continue to lack access to affordable health care coverage solely because their states have not increased access to Medicaid. By accepting the funds, each state will give thousands of currently uninsured people access to health coverage that includes proven screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, and treatments to prevent and fight a life-threatening disease such as cancer. This is a win-win because it will save millions of taxpayer dollars and reduce health care costs. I'm encouraged by the number of states to date that have increased access to health care coverage through Medicaid, and anticipate some more states to follow suit soon. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 1.6 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer and nearly 600,000 people will die from the disease this year alone. With the knowledge we have today, and the policy tools at our fingertips, we could prevent roughly half of cancer deaths in the United States. Through ACS CAN's network of cancer survivors and caregivers, volunteers and staff, we are working with lawmakers in every state to help pass laws like these that can save lives from cancer. Our hope is next year we'll be able to share that more states are measuring up in the fight against cancer. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read the report and see how your state is measuring up, and then join us in our efforts to educate lawmakers about these issues and how they can help.