Majority of States Not Measuring Up On Laws and Policies to Fight Cancer

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A majority of states are not measuring up on legislative solutions that prevent and fight cancer, according to a new report released today by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). As states continue to struggle with budget shortfalls and legislative challenges, many state legislatures missed opportunities to enact laws and policies that could not only generate new revenue and long-term health savings, but also save lives. 

The report, How Do You Measure Up?: A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality, was released at the National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting in Chicago, IL. The annual report found that 32 states have reached benchmarks in only two or fewer of the seven legislative priority areas measured by ACS CAN, the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society. Only two states met five of the benchmarks – Vermont and Delaware. The remainder of the states, and the District of Columbia, received mixed reviews, with much more work left to be done.

"Effective public policy measures in the states that encourage prevention, guarantee access to affordable health care, curb tobacco use and focus on patients' quality of life have been proven to dramatically reduce the burden of cancer, a disease that still kills 1,500 people in this country every day," said John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of ACS CAN. "The failure to enact laws or policies that fight and prevent cancer not only costs countless lives, but leaves new state revenue and health savings on the table."

Now in its tenth year, How Do You Measure Up? identifies and ranks specific policy actions that state legislatures can take to fight cancer, including adequate breast and cervical cancer early detection program funding; colorectal screening coverage laws; comprehensive smoke-free laws; tobacco prevention program funding; and increased tobacco taxes. The 2012 report adds two new measures, tanning bed bans for minors and access to palliative care to treat pain and other symptoms of the disease. 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 well-balanced policies and good practices; yellow indicates moderate movement toward the benchmark and red shows where states are falling short. 

No state received greens in six or seven of the measures. Only Delaware and Vermont reached a benchmark in five legislative areas in the fight against cancer and only seven states – Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington – and the District of Columbia, reached benchmarks in four of the seven areas. Seven states – Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee – did not meet the benchmark on any of the seven issues and another 17 received high marks on only one issue.

How Do You Measure Up? also offers a blueprint for effective implementation of provisions of the Affordable Care Act that benefit cancer patients and their families, such as creating consumer-friendly state health exchanges, expanding health coverage to new populations through Medicaid and ensuring that health plans cover essential health benefits for chronic disease patients. In addition, the report provides guidance on matters such as tobacco cessation funding; emerging tobacco products; obesity, nutrition and physical activity; and oral chemotherapy parity.

"We know what needs to be done to save more lives from cancer, but we cannot be successful unless state and local policymakers take action to deter tobacco use and guarantee funding and access to programs and services that are proven to work," said Chris Hansen, president of ACS CAN. "State legislatures continue to miss opportunities to decrease cancer diagnoses and save lives – and, in most cases, small upfront investments by a state can save millions of dollars in health care costs in the long run."

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