World Cancer Day Part IV: I Don’t Have the Right to Cancer Care

February 4th is World Cancer Day and is focused on dispelling the dangerous myths & misconceptions surrounding the disease.  It is a chance to raise our collective voices in the name of improving general knowledge around cancer and dismissing misconceptions about the disease.  Globally, World Cancer Day is focusing on these four myths:

World Cancer Day 2014

Let’s talk a bit about myth #4: I don’t have the right to cancer care.

The World Cancer Day advocates response to this myth is: All people have the right to access proven and effective cancer treatments and services on equal terms, and without suffering hardship as a consequence.

What a wonderful thing that would be to achieve – but the reality is, we are far from it. OncoLink works with a group of dedicated nurses in Tanzania on an educational initiative. These nurses care for patients in the ONLY radiation center in their country. Can you imagine having to travel for two days to bring your child to the cancer treatment center? Most of the adults at their cancer center are receiving palliative treatment because their cancers are too advanced for curative therapies; nor do they have access to them.

The Pap smear has made death rates due to cervical cancer in developed nations quite low. But in many countries, access to regular gynecologic care is not available and over 85% of the 275,000 women who die every year from cervical cancer are in developing countries.  Here in the U.S., pediatric cancer survival rates are near 90% – compare that with only 10% in low and middle-income countries. Should where you live determine IF you live?

Maybe you are sitting in the U.S. reading this and thinking well, that doesn’t happen in my country. Wake up and smell the coffee. Every day patients are denied treatments because they lack insurance or their insurance will not cover the expensive effective treatments we have available. Maybe they cannot afford the co-pays, which are 20% for people on Medicare – 20% of a $5,000 a month treatment adds up fast. Many are diagnosed at late stages because they don’t have access to good primary care.

In the United States, Cancer patients (or people with any health condition) won a major battle with the passage of the Affordable Care Act.  Under the ACA, insurers are no longer able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions; like a cancer diagnosis.  Cancer survivors and patients have a whole new world of options available to them to purchase health care coverage; when previously their option was to remain uninsured or to buy a policy that specifically excluded anything related to the cancer diagnosis.

But there is much work to be done in terms of the “right” to oncology care in the United States.  One great example is the need for oral chemotherapy drug parity.  Oral drug parity refers to equalizing the playing field in insurance coverage of oral chemotherapy medications and those received via IV.  Currently 20 states have oral parity laws, but there is no federal law requiring the fair and affordable coverage of oral chemotherapies.  Oral parity laws would include:

  • For patients who receive both oral and intravenous/injected chemotherapy drugs, the percent cost sharing* for the oral chemotherapy drugs would be no more than the percent cost sharing* for their intravenous/injected chemotherapy drugs under most proposed policy solutions.
  • For patients who receive only oral chemotherapy drugs, the percent cost sharing* for the oral chemotherapy drugs would be no more than the average percent cost sharing* for the comparable intravenous/injected drugs as covered by their insurance benefit plan (

This is an excellent place to get involved in advocacy and action in cancer care.  Contact your local representative about the importance of oral drug parity!

This isn’t a “their problem, not ours” – this is a matter of social justice and just plain old compassion.

* Cost sharing includes co-pays, co-insurance and other out of pocket expenses determined by insurance coverage.

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