I am honored to invite Alfred Lacks Carter, Henrietta Lacks’ grandson, to share his thoughts on this important bill and how he and his entire family are working to preserve his grandmother’s life and legacy and ensure Henrietta Lacks’ contributions to humanity are never forgotten.
The Path to Health Equity Starts with Access to Care
In the weeks and months following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, among other Black Americans, there has been a groundswell across the country as individuals and organizations commit to long overdue change for communities of color who have been brutalized, marginalized and so often left behind. As we continue to examine policy interventions that will accelerate our progress in the fight against cancer, reducing health disparities emerges time and time again.
We have all been touched by cancer, but across the cancer continuum from detection to diagnosis to treatment, health inequities result in very different disease experiences. Racial injustice often drives these inequities. The result: worsened health outcomes for certain populations, especially Black Americans. Black patients have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial/ethnic group in the United States for most cancers. Black women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women overall and are twice as likely to die if they are over 50.
One critical approach to reducing health disparities is by increasing access to and addressing the affordability of health care. I was proud to join Dr. Lori Pierce, the current President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), in writing an editorial for this year’s Urban One Engaging Black America Special Congressional Supplement that highlighted the importance of removing barriers to accessible and affordable health care as one significant policy intervention.
Both ACS CAN and ASCO are nationwide organizations that serve a central role in the fight against cancer, representing millions of patients and thousands of oncology professionals. We’re committed to partnering with policymakers to enact change and call for action to be taken on specific policy issues, including increased access to Medicaid, preservation of patient protections in the Affordable Care Act and diversifying enrollment in clinical trials.
As Congress debates the fourth COVID relief package, lawmakers have an opportunity to take concrete steps on the path to achieving health equity, through specific measures including:
- Approve additional emergency funding for Medicaid to ensure there is a safety net for cancer patients and survivors who cannot afford a private health insurance plan.
- Create a special enrollment period, so those who have lost health insurance can purchase a plan on healthcare.gov.
Commitment to reducing the number of new cases and deaths from cancer means we have a responsibility to ensure access to advances in cancer detection and treatment are available to all, not just to some. ACS CAN will continue to work to remove hurdles to evidence-based cancer care that for too long have been erected because of skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status, how much you make or geographic location.