‘We can do better’: ASCO report outlines persistent health care disparities, need for funding

Over the next 10 years, the number of cancer survivors in the United States is expected to grow from 15.5 million to 20.3 million, according to ASCO’s State of Cancer Care in America: 2017 report released today.

To care for that burgeoning population, ASCO president Daniel F. Hayes, MD, FACP, FASCO, is calling on Congress to increase funding for cancer care and research and reject President Donald J. Trump’s proposed 20% cut in funding to the NIH.

Daniel F. Hayes

“We now have a 20% cure rate for metastatic melanoma,” Hayes said during a press briefing on Capitol Hill. “I never in my life thought I would ever say we could cure someone with metastatic melanoma. This is [really] exciting. However, 80% of those patients are still dying, and we need to do better.

“We can do better, but not if it’s not funded,” Hayes added. “Every one of us will either have cancer or have a loved one or family member with cancer, and if you want us to keep treating people the way we are in 2017, give us a 20% NIH cut. But if you want us to keep making advances, we have to have the funding to make the advances.”

Health care coverage, accessibility

ASCO’s annual report, published in Journal of Oncology Practice, outlines new approaches for cancer diagnosis and treatment, improved data sharing to drive innovation and an increased focus on value-based health care.

However, access and affordability remain obstacles to high-value, high-quality cancer care.

An estimated 20 million Americans gained insurance in 2016 under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which reduced the number of uninsured Americans to 27 million, or 8.6% of the population. However, those who elected the popular Silver Plan under the ACA saw their premiums increase by 25% from 2016 to 2017.

“Patients come into our offices daily, fearful that they may not have the cancer care they need and deserve because of cost issues and because of insurance issues they’re facing today,” Robin Zon, MD, FACP, oncologist at Michiana Hematology Oncology PC in Mishawaka, Indiana, and ASCO chair-elect of its government relations committee, said during the press briefing.

Congress should preserve protected access to the current ban on pre-existing condition limitations, prohibition of lifetime coverage caps and maintenance of guaranteed renewability, as well as address ongoing disparities in Medicaid by modifying requirements to include clinical trials, Zon said.