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March 2021 Advocacy Update

September 2021 marks ACS CAN’s 20th anniversary!

ACS CAN Urges Governors, President to Prioritize Cancer Patients in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution 

ACS CAN continues to advocate that cancer patients be on the priority list for receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended cancer patients be included in Phase 1 of the prioritization of vaccine distribution; however as some states have chosen not to use CDC guidelines in implementing their vaccine distribution plans, cancer patients and other immunocompromised people have raised concerns about having timely access to vaccines. We joined the Association for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) to send a letter to every U.S. governor, urging them to prioritize cancer patients in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines in accordance with CDC guidelines. We also joined more than 100 cancer, health and science groups to send a letter to President Biden underscoring the urgency of prioritizing access for this immunocompromised patient population. Read the letters here and here.

Two ACS CAN volunteers, Jamie and Lysa, were featured in a recent Washington Post article sharing their experiences as cancer patients trying to access COVID-19 vaccines. 

Congress Approves Relief Bill Expanding Access to Health Coverage 

Today, Congress passed legislation with multiple provisions to increase access to health coverage for millions of Americans, including cancer patients and survivors, as part of its pandemic relief package. The bill will increase the generosity of subsidies to cover the costs of marketplace health plans, cover 100% of premiums for those who lose their jobs and opt to continue their coverage via COBRA, and encourage the 12 states that have yet to do the right thing by expanding their Medicaid programs to do so with increased federal funding, helping to bring millions of Americans closer to gaining meaningful health coverage. 

ACS CAN has directed more than 55,000 messages to Congress asking for these mission-critical policies to be prioritized in the pandemic relief package. The president is expected to sign the bill into law later this week. Read our press statement.

Leading Health Groups Unite to Reduce Racial Disparities in Cancer Care

Last month ACS CAN, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the National Minority Quality Forum joined together to present recommendations for policy and practice changes to overcome inequity in cancer care. The three organizations convened the Elevating Cancer Equity Working Group, 17 national experts representing patients, caregivers, providers, researchers and industry, to develop recommendations to directly address the disparities and racial bias experienced by communities of color and other medically underserved groups in their oncology care. Extensive new polling data show the urgent need to improve equitable, guideline-adherent care delivery. Read more here.

Patient and Health Groups Urge U.S. Supreme Court to Rule Against Work Requirements 

ACS CAN and 14 patient, disability and health care groups filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down work and community engagement requirements that create unnecessary barriers to affordable care for Medicaid enrollees. ACS CAN has strongly advocated against these life-threatening requirements as cancer patients, survivors and those with complex, chronic conditions are often unable to work or limited in their ability to comply with these burdensome administrative reporting requirements. Read the groups' joint statement.

The Biden Administration took a welcome first step toward eliminating these harmful barriers by sending letters to the 12 states that previously received 1115 waiver approval to implement work and community engagement requirements as a condition of eligibility in their state Medicaid programs. Read our press statement here.

ACS CAN Launches Project Highlighting Stories About Barriers to Care 

ACS CAN officially launched our Barriers to Care project, a campaign to collect stories from patients and providers dealing with barriers to accessing lifesaving prescription drugs, therapies and treatments. Our new webpage features stories of patients and caretakers from families who have faced barriers to cancer care and highlights how ACS CAN’s state and federal advocacy helps to ensure patients have timely access to the care they need. Read and watch their impactful stories here.

March 2021 Proclaimed National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

The White House officially proclaimed March 2021 as National Colorectal Awareness Month, noting the critical importance of access to lifesaving early detection services and urging Americans not to delay their recommended cancer screenings. ACS CAN and other patient and colorectal cancer groups engaged with the White House to advocate for the proclamation, and we are pleased to see the Administration publicly acknowledge its commitment to eliminating colorectal cancer and the disproportionate burden the disease places on communities of color.

As Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month kicked off this week, I joined Anjee Davis, president of Fight CRC, to reflect on how the persistent advocacy by our organizations’ volunteers resulted in year-end win of federal legislative finally being passed eliminating a financial barrier for Medicare beneficiaries who experienced unexpected bills when a polyp was found and removed during a screening colonoscopy. Read our op-ed in The Hill here.


State and Local Advances

  • Illinois Gov. Pritzker’s proposed budget maintained funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs as well as the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, which provides low-income, uninsured and underinsured women access to mammograms and cervical cancer screenings. Funding of states’ breast and cervical cancer programs is a critical pathway to helping people return to screening that so many have postponed due to the pandemic.
  • The ACS CAN Maryland team celebrated a major mission win last month when the state legislature voted to override Gov. Hogan’s veto of legislation to increase the state’s cigarette tax by $1.75 per pack along with an increase in the tax on some other tobacco products, including taxing e-cigarettes for the first time. Volunteers engaged with lawmakers throughout the state’s virtual Cancer Action Week to share the importance of this legislation. The tax increase is projected to increase annual state revenue by more than $95 million and decrease smoking in youth under age 18 by 18.2%. 

  • ACS CAN applauded the Michigan House of Representatives for signaling support for legislation that would ensure patient out-of-pocket costs are similar for oral chemotherapy and intravenous chemotherapy, helping patients access treatments in the safety of their own home. 
  • Mississippi health advocacy groups are calling on the state Senate to amend legislation to increase the state’s cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack. The bill currently includes a low $0.50 per pack increase and 10% of wholesale price increase on other tobacco products, which would generate little to no public health benefits. A $1.50 per pack increase would save roughly 7,400 lives and generate more than $142 million in new annual revenue. 
  • In Pennsylvania, ACS CAN moderated a virtual press event with 70 attendees to discuss legislation that would help streamline prior authorization, an insurer practice that can lead to unnecessary delays, and in some cases denials, of physician directed care for patients. 
  • Beginning March 1, Texans covered by Medicaid with an average risk of colorectal cancer will have their screenings covered starting at age 45. ACS CAN commended the state for modernizing its policy in accordance with ACS’s renewed guidelines, of particular need as colonoscopy screening rates have dropped by 90% nationwide since the onset of the pandemic.
  • ACS CAN is calling on West Virginia Gov. Justice to veto recently passed legislation that will take away local control and make it harder for county health departments to enact future smoke-free air and other public health regulations that protect West Virginia citizens from exposure to secondhand smoke and improve public health.

State Cancer Action Days: Our Virtual Cancer Fight

Cancer patients, survivors and volunteer advocates nationwide continue to execute successful virtual Cancer Days/Weeks, meeting with their state lawmakers to share their stories and urge them to support policy change that will help save lives from cancer. A few highlights include:

  • Alaska volunteers met with 30% of the state legislature, with one-third of the meetings being with newly-elected members, urging them to support comprehensive tobacco prevention efforts including funding the tobacco control program. During one of the meetings, an ACS CAN volunteer was invited by his senator to provide testimony about e-cigarettes in an upcoming committee hearing. 
  • Florida Senate Majority Leader Debbie Mayfield spoke at the kickoff rally for Florida’s successful Cancer Action Week, and later mentioned her meeting with ACS CAN Ambassador Constituent Team (ACT!) Lead Jackie Hoskins in her Mayfield Minute newsletter.
  • Fifty ACS CAN advocates joined nearly 200 other Minnesotans from across the state for their “Minnesotans for a Smoke-free Generation” Week of Action to urge legislators to support comprehensive policies to protect the next generation from the dangers of tobacco use. Check out more photos with the #keeplungsloud hashtag.

View the full list of upcoming Cancer Action events here.

RSVP: Upcoming Virtual Events 

  • National Forum on the Future of Health Care (April 27 at 9:00 a.m. ET)
    1. ACS CAN’s 10th annual National Forum on the Future of Health Care will be held virtually and focus on Breaking Down Barriers to Care for All Cancer Patients. Leaders in industry, government, patient advocacy, research and development will discuss new approaches to breaking down barriers that prevent cancer patients, particularly those who experience inequities in care, from fully accessing new and innovative screening, treatments and clinical trials. Register for the event here

Replay: Recent Virtual Events

  • Last month ACS CAN hosted a virtual event, The First 100 Days: Engaging with a New Congress and Administration, to hear from experts about how the 117th Congress and Biden Administration will impact the fight against cancer in the coming months. Watch the replay here. 

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