Health

The Health Care Issue That Can Unite Us

It goes without saying that bipartisanship on just about any policy issue is hard to find in Washington today. The ongoing debate over voting rights serves as a reminder that Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote in the Senate. The pending infrastructure package, a priority for the Biden administration, has had a hard time reaching bipartisan agreement despite popular support. Bridging the divide on issues that historically united Democrats and Republicans is proving elusive and will become harder as we approach the midterm elections.

Despite our political differences, decades of polling experience have taught us that partisanship is not in and of itself a winning strategy. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and endeavor to repair the fractures created by events of the past year, the voters who will determine which party controls Congress in 2023 expect progress on issues that are the topic of kitchen-table conversations. So when we find bipartisan support, it is worthy of exploring and elevating.

Perhaps there is no greater example than America’s War on Cancer, which was formally launched by President Richard Nixon and the advocates surrounding him, 50 years ago. Because the burden of cancer extends across parties and political identity in America, Congress has consistently worked together over the last five decades and nine administrations to promote research, prevention and early detection. More recently, President Joe Biden’s renewed commitment to “end cancer as we know it” is another reminder that there is no partisan angle on cancer.

Here’s where the true opportunity for bipartisanship lies: Right now, Medicare can’t pay for new cancer screenings without going through a byzantine review process that can take a decade or longer after the tests are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. More than 90 percent of those recently surveyed by our firms in a nationwide poll support Medicare coverage for new FDA-approved screening tools and they want Congress to take action to make sure it’s possible. Since Medicare covers those at greatest risk for cancer – America’s seniors – the program is key to any cancer policy.

In the past, lawmakers have consistently worked together to ensure that seniors on Medicare have coverage for cancer screenings because of the unquestionable public health benefit. The 117th Congress has that opportunity before them today. Bipartisan legislation, led by an impressive coalition of policymakers, was recently introduced in the House and Senate to remove barriers.

New cancer screenings build on the success of tried-and-true ones, like mammograms and colonoscopies, but they move our screening capabilities light years ahead using our collective understanding of genomics combined with remarkable advances in computing power. The result is a blood test that finds cancers sooner and saves lives.

There is energetic public support for including access to the latest cancer screenings. A recent poll by Lake Research Group and The Tarrance Group found that nearly 9 in 10 voters say they would be more likely to support a candidate for Congress who backs coverage of the new cancer screening tool called multi-cancer early detection, with over half (58 percent) saying they would be much more likely to do so. Numbers like these are exceedingly rare in the world of health policy, and the responses are consistent across age, geography, gender and partisan affiliation.

Even counterarguments regarding concerns that a new health care screening would increase government health care costs did not resonate with either Democratic or Republican voters. Overwhelmingly, voters support spending money to find cancer early, before it can spread throughout the body, and saving money later on averted treatment costs.

Further illustrating what we saw in the public opinion research, 308 diverse organizations recently came together to convey their strong support for the bill. These organizations include the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, the American Society of Clinical Oncologists and the Vietnam Veterans of America, among many others.

We have become all too accustomed to candidates using unpopular health care proposals and legislation as a wedge to divide, but our polling shows that true medical advances and the opportunity to give seniors and their doctors new weapons in the War on Cancer can be a unifying force when we need it the most. This is an opportunity for members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to work with the Biden administration towards a solution that, in a historical context, will be viewed as an achievement that contributed to a new approach to fighting cancer.

 

Celinda Lake is president of Lake Research Partners. Ed Goeas is president and CEO of The Tarrance Group.

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