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Monthly Advocacy Update - June 2021

​A message from Lisa Lacasse, ACS CAN president. 

A tremendous amount of work occurred in May as ACS CAN volunteers and staff continue to advocate, across the country, day and in and day out, on behalf of cancer patients, survivors and those at risk of the disease. As policy discussions ramp up on Capitol Hill and  legislative sessions continue in many state, the last month brought meaningful progress in a variety of our priority issues, including increasing funding for state tobacco control and cancer prevention programs and ensuring patient affordability of cancer prevention and care. We also led fellow cancer advocates during the One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) coalition’s annual Lobby Day to urge lawmakers to increase research funding for the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute, investment that we know is critical to advancing our fight against cancer.  

June is shaping up to be a very exciting month! The ACS CAN senior leadership team is thrilled to spend time with Dr. Karen Knudsen this week in D.C. as she launches her tenure as the first female CEO of the American Cancer Society and ACS CAN. It will be our first in-person work meeting since the early months of 2020. ACS CAN is also closely monitoring for the anticipated Supreme Court ruling in California v. Texas, the case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, and will issue a statement as soon as the ruling is announced.

President Biden’s Budget Focuses on Health Issues, Boosts Biomedical Research
Late last week the Biden administration released its budget for fiscal year 2022, which focuses on health issues like biomedical research and access to care. Overall, ACS CAN welcomes and is excited by the clear commitment to ‘end cancer as we know it,’ including: 

  • An additional $9 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including $6.5 billion to create a new agency called the Advanced Research Project Agency on Health (ARPA-H) dedicated to accelerating biomedical research for rare and difficult to treat diseases like cancer. 
  • Increased funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Social Determinants of Health program.
  • Making marketplace health plans more affordable through increased subsidies and lower deductibles is a positive step forward in increasing access to care for patients and survivors. 
  • First-time funding to create a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program that includes leave for serious illness and caregiving. 

We urge lawmakers to also prioritize funding for the National Cancer Institute and the CDC’s cancer prevention and early detection program or the Office on Smoking and Health, which are essential to our work to significantly reduce the cancer burden. Read more in our press statement. 

ACS CAN Survey Shows Cancer Patients and Survivors Continue to Face Pandemic-Related Health Care Delays

ACS CAN’s latest Survivor Views survey makes clear that there is more work to be done to ensure patients and survivors can get the health care they need. One in three (35%) of cancer patients and survivors report that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their ability to access care, with 1 in 6 (16%) reporting a delay or interruption in their cancer screening schedule during the last few months. These delays were driven mostly by staffing shortages or lack of available appointments and patients’ concerns about contracting coronavirus.

Our survey also asked patients about overall cancer care experience, and responses showed continued racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in the health care system. Fifteen percent of Hispanic, American Indian or Asian patients did not feel like an active participant in their treatment decisions compared to 12% of white respondents. Additionally, 36% of respondents ranked the cost of health care as the most important challenge facing cancer patients and survivors. Read more in our press statement. 

Updated Colorectal Cancer Guidelines Lower Screening Age to 45, Aligning with ACS guidelines and Expanding Insurance Coverage of Screenings

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released updated guidelines for colorectal cancer screenings, lowering the age for recommended screening from age 50 to age 45 for average risk individuals and aligning with the most recent American Cancer Society guidelines released in 2018. This final recommendation means that colorectal cancer screenings for individuals starting at age 45 are required to be covered with no copay by ACA-compliant plans.  ACS CAN will work to notify policymakers, insurance commissioners and state Medicaid directors about this change. These changes reflect the rising incidence of colorectal cancer in younger adults. To date, ACS CAN has helped to pass laws mandating coverage for colorectal cancer screenings beginning at age 45 in 9 states, and will continue to advocate at the state level because we know cost is a major barrier for patients getting screened and removing these barriers will help move our mission forward as we work to end suffering and death from cancer. Read our joint press statement with ACS here.

#CancerVoice: Advocates Urge Congress to Prioritize Research Funding 

Nineteen ACS CAN volunteers joined other cancer advocates for the One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) coalition's annual lobby day. ACS CAN is the founder and leader of OVAC, a group of leading nonprofits unified by the importance of cancer research and prevention funding. This year’s OVAC Lobby Day was the largest ever with 138 participants meeting virtually with lawmakers to ask them to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute as well as for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s cancer control programs. Advocates also participated in an online Day of Action with the hashtag #CancerVoice

Earlier in the month, OVAC members sent a letter to Congress urging for the inclusion of $10 billion in emergency funding in the forthcoming American Jobs Plan, to restart cancer research and clinical trials at the NIH stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the full letter here.

Administration Takes Action to Preserve Anti-Discrimination Protections for LGBTQ Patients 

ACS CAN and other patient groups praised the Biden administration’s action to preserve protections in the Affordable Care Act for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) patients receiving health care services. The groups had previously filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit opposing the 2020 Rule that rescinded such protections for LGBTQ patients and individuals with limited English proficiency, making clear that discrimination of any kind would exacerbate existing health disparities and lead to poorer health outcomes. ACS CAN is strongly committed to protecting and expanding access to care for all cancer patients and survivors. Read the groups’ press statement here.

ACS CAN Supports Legislation to Increase Federal Tobacco Tax

ACS CAN sent a letter to members of Congress in support of recently introduced legislation that would double the federal cigarette tax rate, establish a federal tax on e-cigarettes and provide parity across all tobacco products. Significant tobacco tax increases are highly effective at reducing tobacco use, and produce a reliable and significant source of revenue for health care priorities that are so important to our cancer mission.

State & Local Advances

  • ACS CAN applauded the Colorado General Assembly's approval of a budget bill that increases funding for mission-critical programs, including $4.5 million in new revenue for the state tobacco education, prevention and cessation programs; a $2.3 million increase for the state Cancer, Cardiovascular, and Pulmonary Disease prevention and education grant programs; and a $200K increase for the state breast and cervical cancer screening program. These funding increases stem from new revenues resulting from the tobacco tax ballot measure passed in 2020.
  • Florida Gov. DeSantis signed into law a bill that raised the legal age of sale for tobacco products to 21 but created a preemption law that blocks the power of elected officials at the local level to further protect the next generation from being addicted to deadly tobacco products. ACS CAN was outspoken about our strong opposition to the bill and advocated continuously against it. Media coverage of our reaction to the law being signed included The Hill, the Tampa Bay Times and Spectrum News 9. Allowing local governments to introduce and pass public health policies that best fit their communities is critical to advancing best practices across the country. Passing public health policies at the local level creates an opportunity for community debate, education and engagement that is unparalleled at the state or federal level. Florida advocates will continue to fight at all levels of government for meaningful action that protects youth from the tobacco industry and its dangerous products. 
  • The Illinois Legislature passed legislation that ACS CAN strongly advocated for which will require health insurers to offer more plans with flat-dollar copayments for prescription drugs. This important legislation will make prescription drug out-of-pocket costs more predictable for patients facing serious illness, enabling patients to budget and financially plan for their required medications. Another piece of legislation that passed will expand coverage of biomarker testing, which is an essential step to increasing patient access to precision medicine treatments.  
  • ACS CAN and its partners successfully advocated for Kansas Gov. Kelly to veto a bill that would have exposed more individuals to inadequate, short-term limited-duration health plans that are not required to provide the patient protections required by federal law. ACS CAN applauded the move and encouraged state lawmakers to direct efforts to expanding access to affordable, comprehensive health care coverage through Medicaid for Kansans.   
  • ACS CAN expressed strong objection when Missouri Gov. Parson failed to uphold the will of voters – who approved Medicaid expansion via ballot measure last August – and withdrew the request to expand coverage as of July 1 after the legislature failed to include specific funding for expansion, denying an estimated 271K Missourians access to health insurance through the Medicaid program. Significant media coverage of our opposition was garnered including NPR and the Associated Press
  • The Texas legislature voted unanimously to pass a bill ensuring insurance coverage of colorectal screenings starting at age 45, and removing cost sharing for a follow-up colonoscopy following a positive stool-based screening test. ACS CAN volunteers and staff advocated throughout the legislative session in support of removing a major financial barrier that kept too many Texans from receiving their recommended screenings. ACS CAN also successfully advocated for legislation that passed in Illinois to remove cost sharing for a follow-up colonoscopy. Similar legislation passed in Arkansas and Rhode Island earlier this year. 

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