Addressing and Overcoming Health Inequities

June 15, 2020

We are facing extremely challenging times in our country due to the many layers of crisis and strife affecting our families, our communities and our nation. The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, as well as COVID-19 disproportionately affecting racial and ethnic minorities, lay bare the racial inequities in our society and magnify very real systemic and institutional injustices. The Cancer Support Community (CSC) will continue to advocate for health care policies that break down inequities and enable all individuals to have access to affordable medical care and support.

The priority legislative and regulatory issues that the Cancer Policy Institute (CPI) focuses on are driven by policy pillars that are centered around the values, needs, and preferences of individuals impacted by cancer. The CPI works in conjunction with patients, patient advocacy organizations, medical associations, members of industry, and other stakeholders to advance policies aimed at improving access to, affordability of, and quality of care across the cancer continuum. In this blog, we are including critical health equity policy actions we have taken as an organization and re-commit to health equity as the lens through which all of our advocacy decisions are made.

Access to Health Care Insurance and Services

It is vital that individuals impacted by cancer have access to comprehensive, timely, and affordable health care insurance coverage and services. We work to ensure that health care policy include robust patient protections and that barriers to care be consistently addressed and overcome in the best interests of the patient, with particular attention paid to individuals from historically underserved communities and those living in poverty. To this point, we advocate on behalf of important safety net programs, like Medicaid and CHIP. Over the past few years, we have been very engaged in advocacy around Medicaid expansion and the utilization of Medicaid waivers to implement restrictions on coverage (such as the creation of work requirements, the imposition of co-pays and premiums, the creation of a $5,000 asset cap for Medicaid beneficiaries, and block grants). These kinds of uses of Medicaid waivers do not improve health care access, but instead create a more restrictive environment that leaves many patients who are most vulnerable without access to care. The CPI submitted comment letters to the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services and the State Medicaid and Health and Human Service Departments in more than 11 states regarding concerns about the impact of restrictive policies on cancer patients and urging states that have yet to expand Medicaid to do so.

We continue to support the Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA), the only legislation that directly addresses the intersections of health disparities and immigration status, age, disability, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, language, and socio-economic status. As our communities continue to grapple with COVID-19, HEAA provides Congress with timely set of policies that address the long-standing health disparities that we have sought for decades to eliminate that are now being exposed by the pandemic.

We also support the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act of 2019, which aims to increase access to and improve cancer clinical trial participation among communities that are traditionally underrepresented in trials. Clinical trials provide individuals with cancer the opportunity to participate in ground-breaking research that may bring about treatments that improve quality of life, extend survival, and even prove life-saving, and we support new approaches that sponsors of clinical trials can take to broaden eligibility criteria and increase enrollment of underrepresented populations.

Addressing Health Inequities During COVID-19

As the issue of health inequities intersects closely with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also paying close attention to the impact of the virus on people with cancer and policy and legislative solutions. You can learn more about the policies we have supported on our What is the Federal Government Doing to Help People Impacted by Coronavirus blog.

What Next?

Consistent with our core belief that empowered patients should be at the center of health care decision making, we will continue to advocate for the expansion of policies that break down these inequities and enable all individuals to have access to affordable medical care and the support they need and deserve. We will provide updated policy information especially as an outgrowth of these critical social justice issues.

We commit to listen, educate ourselves, and stand in solidarity with communities of color in these challenging times. We will create and maintain a climate of inclusion. We will hold our leaders, policymakers, and those in positions of power accountable with the expectation and conviction that these measures will end the inequalities we struggle with today and ensure that the opportunity to lead healthy and safe lives is within reach for all of us. Read CSC’s full Statement of Affirmation in Support of Inclusion and Equality here.