The ability of cancer patients to overcome inequities in insurance coverage and acquire access to the appropriate clinical care has grown quite a bit lately.
In a recent op ed by Elizabeth Helms in the Marin Independent Journal, the cancer care expert promotes advocate and collective voices to achieve those and other results for patients and their families who "live daily with chronic conditions"
Noting that "our collective voices are always stronger than just one advocate, " she quotes an African proverb that says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
For Helms, "together" — at least in California — means supporting the mission of the Cancer Patients Bill of Rights, a resolution unanimously passed by the state's legislature in 2021.
California, it should be noted, is the first state to adopt such a bill of rights, one that lays out six rights that every cancer patient should be entitled, including access to promising innovations and experts specializing in various cancer types.
In her op ed, Helms maintains that while biomedical research has produced life-saving innovations, cancer patients still face socioeconomic disparities that if eliminated could prevent "34% of cancer deaths among all U.S. adults ages 25 to 74."
The bottom line, she contends, is that "when patients receive early access to the treatments and expertise tailored to treat their cancer subtype, lives are saved and the quality of life remains higher during and after treatment."
In California, she write, patients insured through the Medical program "often must navigate confusing layers of subcontracted care, who managed-care plans…outsource responsibility for patients. In many cases, the heavy use of subcontracted care adds a knot of red tape on top of an already stressful time for Medical patients trying to access specialized cancer care."
She adds that cancer patients in that program "who have breast, colon, lung and rectal cancer are more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage of disease and have less favorable five-year survival rates."
"Our current one-size-fits-most system prevents many California cancer patients from accessing optimal care," she insists, "and the lack of access has translated into needless suffering and lives lost."
The cancer community, Helms says, "has a moral imperative to break down these barriers to access."
Access that eliminates disparities can make a difference for the more than 187,000 Californians who are diagnosed with cancer every year and the thousands who "will be misdiagnosed or placed on inappropriate or ineffective treatment."
More information about care can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.