A few weeks ago the Institute of Medicine presented eight recommendations in hopes to strengthen President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for women. Now the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) aims at strengthening that same act by handing down recommendations that could potentially reduce the gaps in cancer disparities. Their recommendations ask that Congress take additional steps to address some systematic issues that continue to allow for disparities to exist in the first place.
"The Affordable Care Act provides a foundation for meaningful progress in eliminating disparities in health care," said ASCO President Michael P. Link, MD. "However, many of its provisions are vague and open for interpretation. In addition, significant progress requires added measures that are not in the new law."
Here are some of their major recommendations:
—Improve Insurance Coverage: To ensure that Medicaid patients have consistent access to quality cancer care, ASCO is asking policy makers to provide Medicaid patients diagnosed with cancer with immediate, presumptive eligibility for Medicare and reimbursing doctors who treat cancer patients on Medicaid at Medicare rates. This way, insurance is beneficial.
—Meeting the Needs of Diverse Patients: For people who have low literacy skills and where English is not their native language, information about cancer should be culturally competent and written in plain and understandable language.
—Enhance Prevention and Screening Follow Up: Although the health care reform legislation mandates that insurers cover certain cancer screenings, it does not expressly require insurers to cover follow-up tests if an abnormality is found. ASCO is calling for Congress to require insurers to cover appropriate follow-up testing without patient deductibles or copays.
In addition, they also suggest the following:
—Adopting patient-centered quality improvement initiatives;
—Attracting more minority physicians and improving the training of the oncology workforce to meet the needs of racially and ethnically diverse patients with cancer;
—Improving data collection on cancer disparities and determine what must be done to make meaningful medical evaluations;
—Ensuring access to cancer specialists for all patients who seek treatment at federally qualified community health centers;
Allowing for cancer-centered services to be at the direction of oncology professionals in community health centers and medical homes where many seek medical care. Unfortunately, like most other diseases, African-Americans are no strangers to cancer disparities.
According to the National Cancer Institute, while cancer deaths have declined for both whites and African-Americans, we continue to suffer the greatest burden for each of the most common types of cancer. And when it comes to survival rates, the statistics are not very encouraging. Just looking at breast cancer alone, white women have the highest incidence rate for breast cancer, although African-American women are most likely to die from the disease. When looking at prostate cancer, Black men are more likely to be diagnosed and die from prostate cancer than other racial groups. And for all cancers combined, the death rate is 25 percent higher for African-Americans/Blacks than for whites.
That's a pretty big difference. Hopefully Congress is paying attention.
Learn more about cancer disparities and why they exist here.
(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)