The Affordable Care Act may have played a beneficial role in early cancer diagnoses.
A study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology will make the case that the Affordable Care Act, commonly called “Obamacare,” resulted in an increase in early detection of certain cancers.
The study analyzed data from 273,000 patients, primarily focusing on breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and other cancers that can be detected through early screening. Researchers hypothesized that by improving access to healthcare, the Affordable Care Act would allow for improved early detection rates, thereby reducing the cost of cancer treatment and improving survivability for patients.
Those assumptions may be correct. Researchers showed a 1 percent increase in early detection of several cancers, including breast, cervical, lung, and colorectal cancer.
However, they also showed a 1 percent decrease in prostate cancer diagnoses. This may be related to public policy, as in 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended against routinely screening for the cancer.
While 1 percent may not sound like an impressive number, it’s significant given the size of the study. Researchers also showed that the increases occurred in states that expanded access to Medicaid, an insurance program that provides low-cost or free medical care for the poor and disabled.
To the researchers behind the study, the results are hardly surprising.
“People without insurance are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage, especially for the cancers that can be detected early through screening or symptoms,” said Xuesong Han, the lead author for the study and the strategic director of health policy and healthcare delivery research at the American Cancer Society.
“Obviously the changes aren’t enormous,” said Bruce Johnson, chief clinical research officer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, in an interview with Bloomberg. “Because the uptake of screening is relatively slow, this is certainly consistent with the idea that doing the additional screening you could potentially find more stage 1 patients. The earlier the stage, the more likely the person is to be cured.”
“Whatever form our health care takes over the next several years, we advocate for patients to have early access to screening, which can identify cancers at an earlier stage in more curable forms,” Johnson added.
While this research seems credible, long-term research will be necessary to prove the study’s claims.
There are several important caveats; the study is limited in that it only compares data between two years, 2013 and 2014. It was also funded by the American Cancer Society, which has advocated for the Affordable Care Act through its political arm, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
However, the study used credible resources, as its information came from the National Cancer Database, a registry that covers about 70 percent of new cancer diagnoses in the United States. The American Cancer Society hopes that the information will be used to guide policy, as the Republican-led Congress recently launched an effort to replace the Affordable Care Act with the American Health Act of 2017 (sometimes called “Republicare”).
The AHCA may negatively affect Medicaid, and some policy experts have criticized the legislation’s treatment of preexisting conditions, as the proposed law would allow insurers to significantly increase premiums for people with certain diseases.