Bilbray, Peters answer Cancer Action Network questionnaire
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) held a press conference on Oct. 31 to announce the responses to a questionnaire sent to District 52 Congressional candidates Republican Brian Bilbray and Democrat Scott Peters asking them to clearly state their commitments to fighting cancer.
The questionnaire was sent to both candidates and addressed cancer research funding, access to affordable health care, protecting seniors with cancer, helping lower and middle-income people fight cancer and cancer prevention.
Director of Field Advocacy for ACS CAN Lynda Barbour said, “We want the candidates to be on record as to what they are going to do to help us fight cancer. So whoever wins, we’re going to be holding them accountable for what they say they are going to do.”
She added the ACS CAN volunteers will monitor the winning candidate to make sure they follow through with what they have now said on record.
Neither Bilbray nor Peters were present at the press conference, and the results are available at cancervotes.org. The questions and the responses of both Bilbray and Peters are as follows.
Decades of progress have cancer researchers on the verge of dramatic breakthroughs, but they may never become a reality for cancer patients if there are continued cuts to medical research funding. If you are elected, what would you do to provide sufficient funding for cancer research?
Bilbray: For my entire Congressional career (1994-2000; 2006-present) I have been an outspoken champion of NIH research and in particular cancer research. In fact, I have worked tirelessly to rally bipartisan support for cancer research and biomedical science. As co-chair of the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus, I have been a strong advocate for moving clinical research from the bench to the bedside. Recently, I joined with my colleague Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in urging fellow lawmakers to sign a “Dear Colleague” letter to House appropriators requesting a fiscal year 2013 funding level of at least $32 billion for the NIH. Because of my work on behalf of cancer research, I was presented with The 2012 Cancer Leadership Award by the American Association for Cancer Research.
Peters: I strongly support increasing our investment in scientific research, both as we pursue cures to the diseases that plague us and to achieve further technological innovation. Research, in general, is a very important dynamic to the local economy of San Diego and I believe we should be looking for ways to increase that component. We won’t just save lives, but also resources if we place a greater emphasis on the identifying the causes of these diseases which continue to evade us. Having the ability to invest in preventative measures allows us to avoid the need for catastrophic care that too many families find a loved one requiring.
Recent reforms have removed barriers to affordable insurance coverage that many cancer patients and survivors faced in the past. Eliminating annual and lifetime limits and guaranteeing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions are vital to cancer patients and survivors. If elected, how will you protect the health of cancer patients by ensuring that affordable insurance coverage is available to them?
Bilbray: Cancer patients and their loved ones should never have to worry about how their treatments are going to be covered. While I have reservations about the Affordable Care Act, one thing is certain; we must protect those patients who have pre-existing conditions from being turned down from coverage. Additionally, as America finds itself in one of the worst economic climates in generations and young people are having problems finding work, we must allow them to stay on their parent’s health insurance until they are at least 26 years old. We can fight about other aspects of the law; but these two provisions must remain in place to protect our friends and loved ones. I also believe we should allow patients who can get insurance to shop across state lines for the cheapest rates.
Peters: The Affordable Care Act was an important first step toward ensuring that every American has access to affordable, quality health care. We still have a lot of work to do to achieve affordability. However, we cannot simply allow millions of Americans to continue suffering because they could not receive the level of medical care they require. In Congress, I would fight to protect the gains we’ve made in providing access and I would look for ways to improve the administration of these programs to make them as efficient as possible and capable of achieving their intended goal – making sure that every American has access to care.
Nearly 60 percent of cancer patients are over 65, and many depend on Medicare for health coverage. Some in Congress have suggested cutting Medicare spending by instead giving seniors a fixed payment to help cover their health care expenses. Some are concerned this payment will not be sufficient to cover the cost of insurance, thus reducing benefits and increasing out-of-pocket costs for seniors. If elected, will you oppose efforts to cut Medicare so that older Americans, especially those fighting cancer, have full access to the health care they need?
Bilbray: According to the Medicare Trustee’s Report, the Medicare hospital fund is set to go bankrupt in 2024 and without real changes the rest of the program might not be that far behind. For those that are in the program now, we must do all we can to ensure they have access and coverage for their treatments. This includes making sure that any new Cancer drugs and therapies that come on the market are covered by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). For those individuals that are awaiting entry in the program, we must find a solution to the looming shortfall. I call on both the President and my colleagues in Congress to put aside our differences and find a solution.
Peters: I absolutely oppose any cuts to the benefit guaranteed through the Medicare program. People need to receive the care that they have paid for over a lifetime of work. I do believe we need to look for ways to make Medicare run more efficiently. Instead of cutting Medicare, as has been proposed in the current Congress, we need to be looking for ways to reduce the overall cost of the administration of the program, while preserving and possibly even expanding the benefit that is provided. We should be looking to eliminate wasteful spending, crack down on fraud, and allow Medicare to leverage its purchasing power to negotiate lower prescription drug costs.
For many low-income and middle-class cancer patients who have been bankrupted by medical expenses, Medicaid coverage is their only access to quality health care. If elected, will you ensure sufficient funding for Medicaid for the one million Americans with cancer who depend on this program for health coverage?
Bilbray: Medicaid, particularly California’s Medi-Cal program, is a life line for cancer patients who have no other means to access medical care. I am committed to working to ensuring its solvency. I read with interest in the Washington Post of a study in Ohio that showed patients who were enrolled in the Medicaid program prior to their cancer diagnosis tended to do better than those who sign up after learning of their disease. The article noted that this suggests to the authors that longer enrollment in the entitlement program “may be associated with a greater ability on the part of the beneficiary to develop a network of providers and an ability to navigate the system.” Additionally, the article noted that previous studies have found longer enrollment in Medicaid to also correlate with increased access to some cancer screenings, such as mammograms.
Peters: We cannot expect the most vulnerable Americans to bear the burden of the proposed cuts to essential programs, such as a Medicaid. I favor the initiatives begun by the ACA and would look to increase access for all to quality and dependable health care. I would work to ensure that those who’ve found themselves in the position of needing Medicaid are also in a position to depend on it.
Research shows that half of all cancer deaths could be avoided through prevention and early detection. In 2010, Congress created the Prevention and Public Health Fund to help pay for obesity prevention, tobacco cessation, and critical cancer screenings to help Americans stay well and catch cancer early. Now some in Congress want to cut the Fund. If elected, what would you do to prioritize disease prevention?
Bilbray: According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), in 2012 about 173,200 cancer deaths will be caused by tobacco use alone. In addition, ACS notes that approximately one-third of the 577,190 cancer deaths expected to occur in 2012 are attributed to poor nutrition, physical inactivity, overweight and obesity. If we are to combat these problems it is going to take a combination of personal responsibility and government help. Americans are going to have to come to grips with the fact that the health and nutritional choices they make on a daily basis will go a long way in determining their health status later in life. The government can help by providing necessary screenings and checkups. I support requiring mammograms and other cancer screenings (colonoscopy etc) as any part of a minimum benefit health care package.
Peters: I absolutely believe that we need to maximize our efforts to promote preventative care measures and I would oppose any proposed cuts to the Prevention and Public Health Fund, as created by the Affordable Care Act. Preventing disease and injury is the most effective, common-sense way to improve health. Cuts to this program simply don’t make any sense. This fund has the ability to provide much needed access to resources, such as mammograms and obesity education and is especially important to low-income Americans, who are disproportionately affected by these health disparities. If elected, I would also fight to include greater access to nutritious food sources to the goals promoted by the Prevention Fund.
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