Whenever health care is mentioned in a political context, it invariably involves a lot of angry rhetoric and partisan finger-pointing. So, when Republicans in the U.S. House recently issued a set of health policy recommendations as part of their Healthy Future Task Force, it would be understandable if people assumed these proposals would just be another springboard for more Capitol Hill bickering.
Luckily, that is not the case.
That’s because, when you give a serious read to what House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and his colleagues have offered through the Healthy Future Task Force, it is clear that largely focuses on bipartisan — in fact nonpartisan — ideas that will reduce the toll serious diseases like cancer take on our population. That is something that should appeal to everyone.
Consider this. Each year, approximately 600,000 Americans die of cancer, despite the fact that medical science has achieved enormous strides in developing advanced oncology treatments. The reason we can’t bring down the death toll is because too many cancers are diagnosed in late stages when they have progressed to the point when treatment is less effective and survival odds are greatly diminished. Early detection is the key to beating cancer, but seven of every 10 cancer deaths in this country are from types of the disease for which there is 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 lower health costs by giving older Americans — the age group most susceptible to being diagnosed with cancer — access to new blood tests that can detect more cancers at earlier stages.
Doing this would strike a massive blow against this terrible disease. Right now, we have commonly available screenings for only five types of cancer. Utilizing the latest science, however, a draw of a patient’s blood can tell a physician that a patient has a cancer signal 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 testing, doctors can screen their patients to see if they have any one of dozens of cancer types.
Unfortunately, under current law, there is no direct or timely path for a new preventive health care tool, even if it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, to be covered by Medicare. New technologies like these blood tests can stay frozen in the bureaucracy, even as more cancer-related preventable deaths occur.
Congress has recognized this is a critical issue and introduced legislation that would prevent people from being harmed by outdated process. The Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act, which has support from more than 200 bipartisan members of both the U.S. House and Senate, would create a clear pathway for Medicare to cover these breakthrough technologies and allow access for seniors and their physicians. Previous Congresses did exactly this to give Medicare beneficiaries access to colonoscopies and mammograms. Congress should do the same now, before this session ends.
Kevin McCarthy and his fellow Republicans deserve credit for embracing this policy as part of their access-focused health agenda and recognizing a proposal that can drive earlier cancer detection. It is our hope that Congress will move forward on this legislation this year.
Jan Lemucchi is the Long Term Services & Supports manager for Independent Living Center of Kern County.