Access Issues Linger for Cancer Patients

Twenty years after an international charter launched the first World Cancer Day, this year’s event allows advocates to reflect on what’s changed – and what hasn’t – in cancer care.

World Cancer Day grew out of a desire to increase access, funding and understanding of the multifaceted disease.  This year, organizers cite “incredible progress” over the last two decades, specifically in research, technology and engagement from policymakers.

The United States alone has seen remarkable advances.  As described in a recent white paper from the Institute for Patient Access, cancer patients have benefited from:

Innovative treatment options.  From immunotherapy to precision medicine, oncology has evolved toward a more targeted, patient-centered treatment approach.  Precision diagnostics allow patients to identify the treatment that will work for them, saving time and halting disease progression.  Oral oncology drugs, meanwhile, allow patients to benefit from treatment without the harsh side effects and logistical complications of traditional chemotherapy.

Increased awareness.  Largescale public efforts such as the Susan G. Komen pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer have increased public awareness about cancer.  Meanwhile, high-profile success stories from the likes of former President Jimmy Carter and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have heightened the public’s optimism about treatment and survival. 

Policy advances.  The Cancer Moonshot initiated under President Barack Obama’s administration signaled policymakers’ commitment to more aggressive, more streamlined cancer research.  

These changes have had a dramatic effect.  The American Cancer Society reports that cancer deaths have dropped by nearly 30 percent in the last few decades.

Access, however, remains a challenge for many patients.  Some health plans may not adequately cover cancer diagnostics.  Others may cling to care pathways that prioritize cost savings over patient-centered care.  Meanwhile, steadily rising health insurance premiums, along with out-of-pocket costs, can force patients to choose between daily essentials and life-saving cancer care.  

Policymakers have a number of options for improving access.  Placing caps on out-of-pocket spending for Medicare Part D prescription drug plans could protect cancer patients from financial toxicity.  The so-called “smoothing” of out-of-pocket costs could also aid cancer patients by making treatment costs more manageable and predictable.  And an appropriate reimbursement strategy, especially for innovative therapies like CAR-T cell therapy, could make treatment more widely available. 

World Cancer Day rightly spotlights the dignity and perseverance of cancer patients across the globe.  To do right by these men, women and children, policymakers should now pursue meaningful changes that improve patients’ health, and their lives, by increasing access to treatment.


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