American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Report Shows States Are Making Progress Implementing Policies to Reduce Toll of Cancer

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While a majority of states are still missing important opportunities to pass and implement legislative solutions proven to prevent and fight cancer, progress is being made to move the nation closer to ending cancer as we know it, according to a report recently released by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

“How Do You Measure Up?: A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality” rates states on the strength of proven policies that help prevent cancer.

Main Report Findings and Ratings

The report, an annual snapshot of state policies, indicates that progress in several areas of cancer prevention has slowed. Few states are passing strong statewide tobacco-control measures and, according to the report, only eight states are funding breast and cervical cancer screening programs at adequate levels. However, policies to improve patients’ quality of life and ensure they have access to the right chemotherapy drugs have increased in popularity among states.

While states are making progress passing policies to eliminate barriers to the prevention and treatment of cancer, most are still missing opportunities to have a significant impact in reducing the cancer burden in their states.
— Chris Hansen, President of ACS CAN

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“We’ve learned so much in the last decade when it comes to preventing, screening, and better treating cancer. State lawmakers play an important role in putting that knowledge into practice,” said Chris Hansen, President of ACS CAN. “By enacting evidence-based policies, state lawmakers can help reduce suffering and death from cancer and improve the financial health of their states.”

The 14th edition of “How Do You Measure Up?” rates states on the strength of policies including smoke-free workplace laws; tobacco taxes; funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs and cessation coverage under Medicaid; funding for cancer screening programs; and indoor tanning restrictions for minors. The report also looks at whether or not states have accepted available federal funds to increase access to care through their Medicaid program; passed policies to increase patient quality of life; ensured patients who need oral chemotherapy drugs have the same access to them as to intravenous chemotherapy; and adopted balanced approaches to provide access to pain medications.

Overall, the report found that:

  • 14 states have reached benchmarks in only 2 or fewer of the 10 legislative priority areas measured by ACS CAN
  • 34 states and the District of Columbia measure up in just 3 to 6 areas
  • Only 2 states—Maine and Massachusetts—meet benchmarks in 7 of the 10 categories
  • No state meets benchmarks in eight or more policy areas.

A color-coded system is used to identify how well a state is doing. Green represents the benchmark position, showing that a state has adopted evidence-based policies and best practices; yellow indicates moderate movement toward the benchmark; and red shows where a state is falling short. 

“How Do You Measure Up?” also offers a blueprint for effective implementation of provisions of the federal health care law that benefit cancer patients and their families, such as ensuring transparency in health plans sold in state exchanges, ensuring access to cancer drugs, and providing essential health benefits for chronic disease patients. In addition, the report highlights strategies to increase access to healthy foods and places for physical activity in communities.

“Nearly half of all cancer deaths could be prevented if everyone were to stop using tobacco, eat healthy foods in moderation, exercise regularly, and get recommended screenings. But without policies in place to make this a reality for all, cancer will continue on its course to claim more than half a million people in America this year alone,” said Mr. ­Hansen. “While states are making progress passing policies to eliminate barriers to the prevention and treatment of cancer, most are still missing opportunities to have a significant impact in reducing the cancer burden in their states.”

Tobacco and Tanning Controls

Despite the fact that tobacco remains the most preventable cause of death in the nation, many states continue to fall behind when it comes to implementing a comprehensive approach to tobacco control. Just five states received a green ranking when it comes to funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs adequately. These programs are proven to help prevent young people from ever using these products and help addicted adults to quit.

Only five states require health insurance plans, including Medicaid programs, to cover a comprehensive tobacco cessation benefit that includes all evidence-based treatment options.

The large majority of states are falling short when it comes to passing laws to protect young people from the proven dangers of indoor tanning. Thirty-seven states have failed to implement laws that would prohibit the use of indoor tanning devices to minors under the age of 18, even though research shows doing so is an effective strategy to keep young people from tanning and reduce their risk of developing and potentially dying from skin cancer later in life.

Gains Highlighted as Well

“How Do You Measure Up?” also highlights major gains states have made in recent years. For example, 42 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to help ensure that patients whose doctors recommend oral chemotherapy as the most effective treatment have their drugs covered by insurance in the same way they would intravenous chemotherapy—dramatically improving options for countless cancer patients.

California voted this year to strengthen its smoke-free law to cover all workplaces and to include electronic cigarettes. With the strengthening of the California law, the nation moved from 49% of the population being protected from secondhand smoke while at work to nearly 60%. In addition, in July, Pennsylvania passed a $1 per pack cigarette tax increase, which is estimated to save 32,200 lives in the state and keep more than 48,100 kids from becoming addicted adult smokers. At the same time, Pennsylvania also passed its first ever tax on other tobacco products including smokeless and roll-your-own tobacco—making it the last state in the nation to adopt some form of tax on these types of products.

New this year, the report also highlights individuals’ personal stories to show the importance these policies have on state residents across the country.

For an interactive national and state-by-state look at the report as well as a full copy of the report, visit ■