WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nearly 700 cancer advocates, including patients, survivors and their loved ones, from all 50 states and territories and nearly every congressional district will dial into calls and log onto virtual meetings this week to ask members of Congress to make the fight against cancer a national priority. Their priorities this year include an increase in federal research funding at the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute, increased funding for cancer prevention programs through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making the additional subsidies to purchase health coverage on the ACA health insurance exchanges permanent, and streamlining the approval process for new breakthrough cancer detection tools through the Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act.
“Rarely has the power and importance of medical research been as apparent as it has during this pandemic. But to realize the promise of new vaccines and innovative cancer therapies, lawmakers must prioritize significant and sustained federal investment,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of ACS CAN. “Increasing the amount of resources available for cancer research and prevention will pay dividends in lives saved and progress made against this disease that still kills more than 600,000 Americans each year.”
Of particular concern this year is the need to increase funding for the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which provides free breast and cervical cancer screenings to uninsured or underinsured people who qualify. Many people put off their cancer screenings during the pandemic either from fear of catching the virus, difficulty accessing medical care or from pandemic-related changes to insurance coverage. As such, the backlog of people who need these tests will place a new burden on this program and increases the risk of delayed diagnosis and poorer health outcomes. Advocates are running a digital ad campaign to highlight this program and its need for more funding. The creative highlights that less than 2 in 10 eligible people received breast and cervical cancer screenings through the program, creating a divide in access to critical cancer prevention and treatment. The ads will run in digital publications in the D.C. market through Friday.
In addition to urging lawmakers to boost research and prevention funding, ACS CAN volunteer advocates will encourage lawmakers to advance legislation that would ensure Medicare enrollees have timely access to innovative blood-based multi-cancer early detection tests. These tests, which are being designed to complement, not replace, existing early detection tests, hold the promise to screen for up to 50 types of cancer, including some rare cancers. Currently, Medicare covers early detection tests for breast, cervical, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancers. The Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act would allow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to initiate an evidence-based coverage process for a multi-cancer screening test following FDA approval.
“Ensuring quick access to promising new advancements in detection is essential to improving our ability to catch cancer as early as possible when it is less expensive to treat and survival chances are greater,” said Dr. Karen E. Knudsen, CEO of the American Cancer Society and ACS CAN. “Innovations in cancer prevention, detection, and management should be covered under Medicare, which typically serves a population with higher incidence due to age, as those innovations could be critical to accelerating our progress against this disease.”
The virtual meetings follow a Lights of Hope Across America event earlier this month when nearly 57,000 lit bags decorated with the names of those who’ve faced a cancer diagnosis were displayed in communities nationwide as a powerful message of hope and a call to elected officials to make cancer a national priority. The coordinated community displays and virtual program were in lieu of the traditional Lights of Hope ceremony which, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, gathered advocates in person on the National Mall. Lights of Hope Across America was made possible with the generous support of Bristol Myers Squibb.
ACS CAN will also honor a select group of lawmakers and others who have made exemplary contributions to the cancer fight. The National Distinguished Advocacy Award, ACS CAN’s most prestigious honor, is being presented to U.S. Representatives Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.) for their work on colorectal cancer screening coverage legislation. And State Senator Maryellen Goodwin (D-R.I.) and State Representative Mia Ackerman (D-R.I.) for their work on state legislation requiring colonoscopy coverage after less invasive screening. Additionally, Illinois State Representative Mary Flowers is being honored for her long-time commitment to health issues, including increased access to biomarker cancer testing. ACS CAN’s Judicial Advocacy Initiative award, which recognizes attorneys who generously donate their services to the cancer fight, is being given to Joseph Palmore of Morrison & Foerster for his tremendous work fighting inadequate health coverage offered by short-term limited-duration insurance plans and opposing a rule that would have permitted health care providers to discriminate against L-G-B-T-Q-Plus individuals and taken away some rights of individuals with limited English proficiency.
This year marks ACS CAN’s 20th anniversary. In that time ACS CAN and its volunteers have advocated for the critical patient protections in the Affordable Care Act; worked to reduce the nation’s tobacco burden through effective increases in tobacco taxes, improved access to cessation services, and a significant increase in the number of Americans covered by smoke-free air laws; and has successfully advocated for year over year increases in medical research funding, including more than $1.25 billion increase last year.
“The impact of our determined and dedicated cancer advocates over the last two decades is undeniable,” said Sandra Cassese, volunteer chair of ACS CAN’s Board of Directors. “By continuing to bring patient, survivor and caregiver voices directly to Congress we ensure lawmakers think of their constituents’ cancer stories every time they cast a vote that could impact their health, and we call on them to make a commitment to take action to defeat cancer.