ACA linked to reduced racial disparities, earlier diagnosis and treatment in cancer care
Proponents of the embattled Affordable Care Act got additional ammunition Sunday: New research links the law to a reduction in racial disparities in the care of cancer patients and to earlier diagnoses and treatment of ovarian cancer, one of the most dangerous malignancies. The findings, coming as health care emerges as an increasingly important issue in the 2020 presidential campaign, were released Sunday as abstracts at the annual meeting in Chicago of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The conference attracts some 40,000 cancer specialists to one of the world’s largest oncology meetings. According to researchers involved in the racial-disparity study, before the ACA went into effect, African Americans with advanced cancer were 4.8 percentage points less likely to start treatment for their disease within 30 days of being given a diagnosis. But today, black adults in states that expanded Medicaid under the law have almost entirely caught up with white patients in getting timely treatment, researchers said.Another study showed that after implementation of the law, ovarian cancer was diagnosed at earlier stages and that more women began treatment within a month. The speedier diagnoses and treatment were likely to have increased patients’ chances of survival, the researchers said. Health policy experts who were not involved in the studies said the findings are consistent with previous data showing that the ACA is associated with improved access to health insurance and medical care. “What’s new here are findings that the ACA and Medicaid expansions have had specific impacts on patients with cancer, and that’s great,” said Justin Bekelman, a radiation oncologist and health policy professor at the University of Pennsylvania. But, Bekelman said, the studies did not address whether the ACA lengthened survival or improved quality of life — the two things that matter most to patients. “It’s logical” that the law has had those effects, but “we need the evidence,” he said.