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Cancer patients and survivors benefit from 10 years of the Affordable Care Act

Increased health coverage has improved prevention, detection, and treatment; recent policy changes could erode gains

Advocates, experts, and patients gathered for a briefing on Capitol Hill on March 5 to highlight progress made for patients since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The law, passed 10 years ago March 23, has expanded access to health coverage to millions of Americans and put in place critical patient protections and essential health benefits that have helped prevent, detect, and treat cancer, lessening the overall burden of the disease nationwide.

“Prior to the law’s passage, pre-existing conditions, whether an innocuous acne diagnosis or more serious cancer or heart disease, often meant being blocked from accessing health insurance when patients or survivors needed it most,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). “As we approach the 10-year anniversary, patients and their families are putting a face on the impact of what has been gained from this law over the last decade for their lawmakers.” 

Eliminating pre-existing condition exclusions, lifetime, and annual insurance coverage caps; ensuring health insurance covers necessary services like prescription drugs and hospitalization; along with Medicaid expansion and the creation of the health exchanges, have all been critical to the fight against cancer.

Numerous studies have documented the law’s benefits to cancer patients, including: young adult patients getting diagnosed earlier and accessing treatment sooner due to improved access to health coverage, and patients in Medicaid expansion states being less likely to be uninsured, more likely to get a proven cancer screening, and less likely to report being unable to afford their care. Studies have also shown Medicaid expansion reduced disparities along ethnic, racial, and urban and rural lines.

Yet much of this progress is at risk. The Texas vs. United States case, which will be heard by the Supreme Court next term, could invalidate the entire law. Ongoing regulatory changes, like the return of short-term health plans which are exempt from covering the law’s 10 essential health benefits and can deny or charge more for coverage of pre-existing conditions like cancer, are eroding many health gains. A new federal policy for Medicaid programs allowing them to choose “block grant” funding for their expansion populations could endanger access to cancer treatment and prevention services for low-income Americans.

“The onslaught of regulatory changes that weaken the law’s patient protections threaten to bring back the most egregious insurance practices, including pre-existing condition denials and arbitrary limits on coverage -- the very reasons the Affordable Care Act was so necessary in the first place,” said Lacasse. “On top of that, the uncertainty over endless litigation to invalidate the law leaves many patients in a constant state of anxiety. We urge lawmakers to come together to improve access to comprehensive health coverage rather than working to erode the critical progress we’ve made.”

Additional policies that could weaken the law include Medicaid work requirements and other barriers to coverage, reduced funding for outreach and enrollment services that help people access affordable health insurance, and the proliferation of plans that are exempt from patient protection requirements, like Association Health Plans (AHPs).

More than 25 patient groups sponsored the Congressional briefings, which mark the start of numerous activities the groups have planned to celebrate the law and push lawmakers to preserve and strengthen it.

PHOTOS: Pictured is a briefing titled "The Affordable Care Act at 10: Celebrating a Decade of Progress for Patients."  Panelists were: Elizabeth Fowler, JD, PhD, The Commonwealth Fund; Karen Pollitz, Kaiser Family Foundation; Laura Roberts of Connecticut, who lives with multiple sclerosis; Nathan Wilkes of Colorado, whose son has hemophilia; Robin Yabroff, PhD, American Cancer Society; and Noam N. Levey, staff writer, Los Angeles Times, who served as moderator.

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