American Cancer Society Expert Tells House Subcommittee Inadequate Insurance Is a Barrier to Fighting Cancer

April 15, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- April 15, 2008 -- An American Cancer Society expert today testified at a House subcommittee hearing that having not enough health insurance can be an obstacle for those fighting cancer. Led by Chairman Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member David Camp (R-Mich.), the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health held the hearing to discuss the state of health insurance in America, including the impact of inadequate insurance. Stephen Finan, the American Cancer Society’s associate director of policy, testified at the hearing as an expert on this issue.

“Despite having insurance, many cancer patients and survivors experience major financial burdens,” said Finan, a health economist who has worked in the U.S. Departments of Treasury, Health and Human Services, and Labor. “Some of the most disheartening stories we hear come from people who have had to interrupt their treatment because of inadequate coverage. Please think about this for a moment these are people who stop treatment for a deadly disease because they cannot afford to pay. The consequences of this decision could be detrimental to their health and may very well be a life or death situation.”

To better illustrate the challenges cancer patients with inadequate insurance face, Finan pointed to a recent analysis of cases handled by the Society’s Health Insurance Assistance Service (HIAS), which connects callers to the Society’s National Cancer Information Center with health insurance specialists who work to address their health care coverage issues.

The analysis showed that callers with inadequate insurance face a myriad of problems including annual or lifetime benefit limits that result in the patient not being able to access further cancer care without incurring medical debt; little or no coverage for out-of-network specialists, limiting the patient’s ability to access quality cancer care; and little or no coverage of prescription drugs. Rarely is help available to solve these callers’ problems. For that reason, HIAS is able to help only one in six callers resolve their issues. While the HIAS caseload may not be representative of the U.S, population, the volume and type of calls received reveal serious problems that exist in the health insurance system.

The hearing also focused on outlining the characteristics of the uninsured and examining the health consequences of being without insurance. Finan noted that being without any health insurance can also impact a cancer patient’s ability to fight cancer. Recent research published in the Lancet Oncology shows that uninsured patients are significantly more likely to present with advanced stage cancer compared to patients with private insurance. The study discovered consistent associations between insurance status and stage at diagnosis across multiple cancer sites. Moreover, uninsured patients had a significantly increased likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer at more advanced stages that those with private insurance.

“Far too many cancer patients are being diagnosed too late, when treatment is more difficult, more expensive, and less likely to save lives,” said John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. “If we are to make continued progress in the fight against cancer, we must tear down the barriers to early diagnosis and timely access to medical care, and give all cancer patients an equal opportunity to battle this disease.”

The American Cancer Society last fall announced a major nationwide initiative to call attention to the urgent need for quality, affordable health care for all Americans. To guide its efforts and those of its sister advocacy organization, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the Society issued four principles that define meaningful health insurance and highlight major problems in the health care system that are impeding progress against cancer and other major diseases. The principles state that health insurance should be adequate, affordable, available and administratively simple.  

ACS CAN is working on a number of advocacy initiatives at the federal level to improve access to health care. ACS CAN seeks additional funding for the Patient Navigator, Outreach, and Chronic Disease Prevention Program, a demonstration program that will help medically underserved populations navigate the health care system. To improve access to colon cancer screening and treatment for Americans age 50-64, ACS CAN seeks passage of the Colorectal Cancer Prevention, Screening and Treatment Act. ACS CAN also supports eliminating Medicare co-pays for mammography and colonoscopy, and extending the Welcome to Medicare visit time limit from six months to one year to help more Medicare beneficiaries take advantage of lifesaving cancer screening tests. Additionally, ACS CAN backs Michelle’s Law, a bill that would allow college students to take a medical leave of absence while maintaining eligibility for dependent coverage under a parent’s insurance plan.

Finally, ACS CAN is leading efforts to boost funding for the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which provides community-based breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnosis to low-income, uninsured and underinsured women that would not otherwise have access to a mammogram. Current funding limits the program to serving only one in five eligible women nationwide.

ACS CAN is the nonprofit, nonpartisan sister advocacy organization of the American Cancer Society, which is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem. ACS CAN works to encourage lawmakers, candidates and government officials to support laws and policies that will make cancer a top national priority. ACS CAN gives ordinary people extraordinary power to fight cancer. For more information, visit  

Trista Hargrove
Phone: (202) 585-3221
Email: [email protected]

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