Whenever health care is mentioned in a political context, it invariably involves a lot of angry rhetoric and partisan pointing. So when Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives recently released a set of health policy recommendations as part of their Healthy Futures Task Force, it would be understandable for people to assume that these proposals would be just another springboard for more bickering on Capitol Hill.
Fortunately, this is not the case.
Indeed, when you seriously read what House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and his colleagues have proposed through the Healthy Futures Task Force, it’s clear that it largely focuses on ideas bipartisan – actually non-partisan – that will reduce the number of serious diseases like cancer befalling our people. This is something that should appeal to everyone.
Consider this. Every year, approximately 600,000 Americans die of cancer, despite the fact that medical science has made tremendous strides in developing advanced cancer treatments. The reason we cannot reduce the number of deaths is that too many cancers are diagnosed at advanced stages when they have progressed to the point where treatment is less effective and the chances of survival are greatly reduced. Early detection is the key to beating cancer, but seven out of 10 cancer deaths in this country are due to types of disease for which there are no commonly available screening technologies.
Among other access-focused proposals, the Healthy Future Task Force has recommended that we can diagnose cancers earlier, save lives and reduce healthcare costs by giving older Americans – the age group most likely to being diagnosed with cancer – access to new blood tests that can detect more cancers at earlier stages.
Doing so would deal a severe blow to this terrible disease. Currently, we only have routinely available screenings for five types of cancer. Using the latest scientific advances, however, a blood draw from a patient can tell a doctor that a patient has a signal for cancer and where to look for it in the body so diagnosis and treatment can begin. With these blood tests, which have generated exciting results in population-level clinical trials, doctors can screen their patients to see if they have any of dozens of types of cancer.
Unfortunately, under current law, there is no direct or timely path for a new preventative health care tool, even if approved by the Food and Drug Administration, to be covered by Medicare. New technologies such as these blood tests can remain stuck in bureaucracy even as more preventable cancer-related deaths occur.
Congress recognized this as a critical issue and introduced legislation that would prevent people from being harmed by an outdated process. The Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act, which has the support of more than 200 bipartisan members of the U.S. House and Senate, would create a clear path for Medicare to cover these breakthrough technologies and enable access for seniors and their doctors. Previous Congresses have done just that to give Medicare beneficiaries access to colonoscopies and mammograms. Congress should do the same now, before the end of this session.
Kevin McCarthy and his fellow Republicans deserve credit for adopting this policy as part of their access-oriented health agenda and recognizing a proposal that can lead to early detection of cancer. We hope that Congress will move forward on this legislation this year.
Jan Lemucchi is the Long Term Services and Supports Manager for Kern County Independent Living Center.