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February Advocacy Update from Lisa Lacasse

Feb. 11: Hear experts discuss the impact of the new Biden Administration and the 117th Congress on the fight against cancer.

2020 Year-end Cancer Advocacy Wins 

ACS CAN advocates persevered through the many challenges of 2020 to close out the year with several wins that represent incredible progress on our cancer mission. 

  • After 10 years of advocacy, the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act was signed into law and will phase out unexpected out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries if a polyp is found and removed during a screening colonoscopy. This tremendous win was accomplished by leveraging ACS CAN’s nationwide grassroots power to support an unwavering direct lobbying engagement strategy by ACS CAN’s federal relations team. 
  • Federal funding for the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute was increased by $1.25 billion and nearly $120 million respectively, a significant achievement in such a tough budget environment. Cancer prevention and screening programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also received a $5.8 million funding boost, especially important as pandemic-related missed screenings are likely to increase demand for these critical services. 
  • The Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act was signed into law, a bill for which our grassroots volunteers and staff strongly advocated throughout the year and helped to garner strong bipartisan support. The bill – named in honor of a Black woman whose cells were taken without her knowledge or consent during cervical cancer treatment – aims to increase access and remove barriers to participation in federally sponsored cancer clinical trials among traditionally underrepresented communities. I was honored to feature a post from Henrietta’s grandson, Alfred Lacks Carter, on my blog in December. 
  • Congress passed the No Surprises Act that prohibits surprise medical bills, a significant step in the right direction to reduce out-of-pocket costs of cancer patients, of particular importance as patients face affordability issues during the pandemic. ACS CAN strongly urged Congress to advance legislation on this important issue. 

Our press statement details multiple other priority provisions critical to our cancer mission including pandemic relief for nonprofits and providing Medicaid patients greater access to clinical trials.  

 

Administration Prioritizes Policy Changes Expanding Health Coverage Options, Addressing Health Equity

President Biden issued a series of executive orders last month, including several aimed at expanding potential health coverage options for those have lost health insurance due to the pandemic, and rolling back current policies that impede patient access to coverage, including:

  • Offering a clear path to find coverage with a special enrollment period for people to purchase individual health plans on the exchange;
  • Reducing hurdles many face when trying to enroll in Medicaid by halting future efforts to cap eligibility or implement burdensome reporting requirements; and
  • Reexamining policies that make it difficult for patients with pre-existing conditions to access affordable care. 

ACS CAN welcomed these efforts as increasing access to care remains critical for both our mission and our country’s recovery from the pandemic. Read more in a statement from ACS and ACS CAN CEO Gary Reedy. In 2021, we will continue to elevate the patient voice through our efforts including launching the 2nd successful Survivor Views initiative that will survey a cohort of cancer survivors for real-time input on the impact of the pandemic on access to care. 

Additional executive orders acknowledged the need to advance health equity, including directing a government-wide effort to address health equity, establishing a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, and announcing a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all people of color and other historically underserved communities. Reducing longstanding health disparities remains a top priority for ACS CAN in 2021, and we appreciate the administration’s clear recognition of the urgent need for these policy changes.  

Virtual Events

  • The First 100 Days: Hear from the Experts
    1. ACS CAN is hosting a virtual event on February 11 at 7:00 p.m. ET. to hear from experts about the impact of the new Biden Administration and the 117th Congress on the fight against cancer. Featured speakers include Dr. Lisa Richardson, director of CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, and Dr. Brittany Avin McKelvey, PhD scientist and current ACS CAN Science Policy Follow. Keysha Brooks-Coley, ACS CAN vice president, Federal Advocacy and Strategic Alliances, will serve as moderator. RSVP to the event here.
  • State Cancer Action Days: Our Virtual Cancer Fight 
    1. As part of ACS CAN’s 2021 Cancer Action Days, cancer patients, survivors and volunteer advocates across the country will meet virtually with their state lawmakers to share their stories and urge elected officials to support public policy change that will help save lives from cancer. Advocates in Idaho, Arizona and Washington have already kicked off their virtual Cancer Action Days focused on tobacco control, protecting cancer research funding and eliminating health disparities. Visit fightcancer.org/events for the full lists of upcoming Cancer Action Days and please advocate with us!

       
 


 

  • Save the Date: ACS CAN’s National Forum on the Future of Health Care
    • Our 2021 Forum will again be virtual and will be held on April 27, focusing on breaking down barriers to high quality cancer care with a particular emphasis on addressing health disparities related to: access, clinical trials and prevention and screening. More details will be shared in the coming months.

Federal Action Weakening Medicaid Programs Amid Pandemic and Recession Will Prove Deadly

ACS CAN strongly opposed the decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last month to approve a waiver that will allow for a capped funding arrangement – a “block grant” – in Tennessee’s Medicaid program. The approval limits the amount of federal funding provided to Tennessee and authorizes the state to establish a closed prescription drug formulary, which limits the prescription drugs available to treat complex conditions like cancer. Read our press statement here.

The approval was announced in the final days of the Trump Administration and was the last in a series of waivers approved weakening state Medicaid programs and creating additional barriers to health insurance coverage for individuals and families with lower incomes. ACS CAN mobilized quickly to express our strong opposition and generate conversation about the damaging consequences of the decision, sending 101 emails and making nearly 600 phone calls to state lawmakers and Gov. Lee and securing 36 news stories, including the Associated Press. Despite our concerns, Gov. Lee signed the waiver into law. ACS CAN will closely monitor the impact of these program changes on cancer patients and continue to urge that elected officials ensure those who rely on TennCare for coverage face additional barriers. 

Proposed Medicare Rule Likely to Limit Cancer Patients’ Access to Necessary Prescription Drugs

ACS CAN filed comments urging the administration to rescind the “Most Favored Nation” proposed rule tying certain Medicare Part B drug reimbursement rates to that of foreign countries. While the rule’s intent is to save Medicare money, we are concerned that a significant portion of the savings comes from beneficiaries not being able to access their cancer drugs. Thirty-five of the 50 drugs listed in the rule are used for treating cancer meaning that cancer patients would likely be among those most affected and unable to access necessary treatments. There’s also concern an unintended consequence of the rule would result in increased prices on non-Medicare Part B drugs. Read our press statement here.  

State and Local Advances

  • As state lawmakers dive into their 2021 legislative sessions amidst the ongoing economic crisis driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, ACS CAN staff and volunteers across the country are working to protect and secure funding for critical public health programs, including breast and cervical cancer screenings programs; tobacco prevention and cessation programs; and cancer research programs. 
  • In California, the tobacco industry secured sufficient signatures to place a referendum on the November 2022 ballot to overturn the state law to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco. ACS CAN and our public health allies continue to denounce Big Tobacco’s efforts to halt the implementation of the successful legislation, and urge the adoption of strong, comprehensive local tobacco control policies. 
  • ACS CAN urged the District of Columbia City Council to expand proposed legislation to end the sale of flavored e-cigarettes to include ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and all other flavored tobacco products, without exemptions, in order to sufficiently address tobacco use throughout the city. 
  • ACS CAN joined public health groups and health care providers who have urged Indiana Gov. Holcomb to prioritize a $2 per pack cigarette tax increase during the 2021 legislative session, citing the critical need to address the tobacco-related health crisis across the state. It’s estimated the increase would help 100,000 Indiana residents quit or prevent tobacco addiction, and generate nearly $350 million in revenue in the first year. 
  • ACS CAN led our public health allies in Mississippi to express disappointment at the Mississippi Department of Corrections’ decision to nullify the policy that prohibits smoking inside prisons, putting the health of individuals who are incarcerated at risk. 
  • Ohio Gov. DeWine signed into law legislation establishing a Rare Disease Advisory Council, comprised of professionals, patients and caregivers living with rare diseases, that will educate medical professionals, government agencies and the public about rare diseases as an essential public health issue. ACS CAN advocated for and provided testimony in support of the legislation since several cancers are considered rare. 
  • Oregon’s voter-passed cigarette and e-cigarette tax increase took effect on Jan. 1. A $2 per-pack increase brings the state’s cigarette tax to the sixth highest in the nation and is projected to save nearly 12,000 lives and keep nearly 19,000 kids and young adults from starting to smoke. ACS CAN volunteers and staff were instrumental in the successful Measure 108 ballot campaign last fall

Replay – Medicaid Covers US: Health Disparities and State Budget Cuts 

ACS CAN hosted a Medicaid Covers US virtual event, Health Disparities and State Budget Cuts: Making the Case for Medicaid, during which partners from the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities discussed the historical context of budget shortfalls and how they disproportionately impact communities of color, and Dr. Thaddeus Bell, MD a physician and health equity expert provided insights on how the economic downturn and COVID-19 are exacerbating longstanding racial and health disparities in communities of color. Watch the recording here. 

Medicaid Covers US is a public education project in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation intended to foster conversation about the value of Medicaid for the health of people and communities nationwide.  

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