As Congress and the new administration begin to address our nation’s health care, there is great concern about what imprint will be left on patients. This uncertainty weighs heavily on the minds of the American public who want access to high quality and affordable care. This is especially true for those millions living with or at risk for lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths.
This is what motivated Lung Cancer Alliance and the American Lung Association, along with 18 other public health and patient advocacy groups, to call on members of Congress to strengthen national health policy, not take a step backward. Any health care restructuring should put the needs of patients – not profits – first.
We’re taking a stand on this issue because lung cancer kills more than 158,000 Americans each year. In 2016, an estimated 224,000 Americans were diagnosed with lung cancer, representing about 13 percent of all cancer diagnoses. The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 55 percent for people whose cancer is detected early, when the disease is localized in the lungs; however, only 16 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at this early stage. For lung cancer that has already spread, the five-year survival rate is only 4 percent.
The good news is progress is being made to help move the needle in a positive direction. In the past two years, the Food and Drug Administration has approved eight new drug therapies for the treatment of lung cancer – giving new hope to patients and their families. Many lung cancer patients are alive today because of key health care protections currently in effect that eliminated pre-existing condition prohibitions, lifetime and annual benefit limits, coverage rescissions and access to preventive services, including lung cancer screening for individuals at high risk and smoking cessation treatments. Together these protections ensure lung cancer patients have access to early detection – when more treatment options are available – and new break-through treatments. Lung cancer patients and those at high risk for lung cancer desperately need this support, and our organizations oppose attempts to weaken or eliminate any of them.
A stable and affordable insurance marketplace is vital to lung cancer patients and their families. Instability in the marketplace because of the unknown will jeopardize affordability and access, especially in the individual marketplace. We recognize that some proposals are trying to preserve access to health care for those with pre-existing conditions. However, proposals that require continuous coverage as a condition to guarantee health insurance and/or impose waiting periods on those who do not retain such coverage are barriers to access. Given the disabling impact lung cancer has on a person’s life and ability to work, these requirements could put patients with lung cancer at risk for losing their care.
To be clear, having access to personalized health care is no guarantee that anyone will beat lung cancer or any disease for that matter. But it does provide a stronger foundation to dramatically improve quality of life and give patients a fighting chance.
As the health care debate gathers more steam in the weeks ahead, we are committed to working with Congress to ensure that the system that protects and supports individuals with lung cancer is patient-centered. Let’s take a stride forward towards supporting patients and defeating cancer, rather than treading on patients’ ability to access quality, affordable health care.
Millions of Americans are depending on us. We won’t let them down.
Laurie Fenton Ambrose is the president and CEO of Lung Cancer Alliance. Harold Wimmer is the national president and CEO of the American Lung Association.
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