Our Hopes for the Biden-Harris Administration

With the final preparations underway for today’s Inauguration, under extraordinarily extreme and unique circumstances, I can’t help but ponder how this new Administration will approach health care broadly, and cancer more specifically.

It is almost impossible to think about health care in the US without looking at worrisome trends in the broader economy and their impact on average families. It is also imperative that we elevate health equity and measure the disproportionate impact of health challenges on communities of color.

These challenges are not new; they are part of a systemic structure of economic and health inequity that has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. What is clear is that there are layers of issues that are interrelated on which we need to act. They need to be the basis for a national call to action for the new Administration and all Americans who want to build a stronger and more equitable country.

Let us take a look at the economic picture. It is hard to imagine that the minimum wage in 1970 was $1.45 an hour, and is only $7.25 today, yet the medium home value in 1970 was $17,000 compared to $320,000 in 2020. $7.25 an hour translates to $15,080 a year, just over the federal poverty level of $12,760. In the same 50-year period, health care spending in the US increased from $75 billion in 1970 to $3.6 trillion in 2018. This has translated to dramatic increases in out-of-pocket costs for consumers in the past 50 years. People face rising premiums and deductibles, along with non-covered costs like over-the-counter medications, transportation, child care, and lost wages — it is estimated that seven out of 10 low-wage workers in the US do not have paid medical leave.

In addition, it is often said that the greatest predictor of one’s health in our country is the zip code into which you are born. This is often referred to as social determinants of health and can include things like access to high quality and affordable medical care, access to fresh, healthy food, and safe and stable housing, among other factors.

Furthermore, in looking at the question of health equity, many studies demonstrate that systemic racism in our health care system leads to inferior and delayed care.

All of these factors in our society have exacerbated the challenges around health care in America. How is it that in the wealthiest nation in the world, where we spend far more per capita on health care than most other nations, we rank 26th out of 35 in life expectancy in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development?

The challenges ahead are great for this Administration, not to mention the most pressing public health crisis facing us in decades — COVID-19.

As a cancer organization that has served cancer patients and their loved ones for nearly 40 years, we will work with the Biden-Harris Administration to make health care a priority, along with addressing the profound challenges around the economy. Some areas which we consider crucial are the following:

  • COVID-19 and Cancer: Studies show that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on cancer patients including things like increased risk of serious complications and death, and delays in treatments, causing heightened levels of distress and anxiety for patients and their caregivers. In addition, we have seen a decline in cancer screenings in 2020, which will lead to more cancers being diagnosed in 2021 and beyond, and more cancers being diagnosed in later stages. We hope the new Administration will make cancer patients a priority in getting vaccinated, increase investment in telehealth and broadband, and help elevate the critical importance of timely cancer screenings.
  • Patient-Centered Oncology Care: The number of cancer survivors in the US is expected to increase from nearly 17 million today to over 22 million by 2030, yet patients continue to share with us stories about the immense challenges they continue to face when diagnosed with cancer in the US today. We must evolve the system so that cancer care is affordable, accessible, high quality, and aligned with patients’ values and preferences.
  • Health Equity: In a 1966 speech in Chicago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Yet today, we know that black women have a lower risk of getting breast cancer, but a higher risk of dying from breast cancer, and black men have a higher incidence and death rate for all cancers combined. We encourage the new Administration to support policies that advance health equity including closing coverage gaps in Medicaid, better understanding and addressing social determinants of health in our nation, and supporting the passage of the Health Equity and Accountability Act, a bill supported by the Congressional Tri Caucus.
  • Cancer Clinical Trials: Over the past couple of decades, we have continued to witness low participation rates in cancer clinical trials, delaying important clinical and scientific advances, yet, at the same time, patients who do participate in trials report a positive experience. Many patients do not consider participating in trials because they hold certain myths and misconceptions about trials. We also know that trial participants are disproportionately white and male, diminishing our potential understanding of the impact of new medications on diverse patient populations. We encourage the new Administration to support the Clinical Treatment Act, which guarantees Medicaid coverage for routine clinical trial costs, invest in community oncology’s capacity to run more trials, and support education and awareness initiatives around cancer clinical trials.

We recognize that the challenges ahead are great — almost daunting. However, whether it’s COVID-19, cancer, or other pressing health concerns, the health of our nation must be a top priority. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It is health that is real wealth, and not pieces of gold and silver.”

CSC has created and shared with the Biden-Harris Administration a transition document that asks the incoming Administration to consider a variety of recommendations and guiding principles in order to advance innovation, collaboration, and urgency in the fight against cancer, and protect and promote access to affordable and comprehensive health and cancer care. Read it here.




Executive Chair of the Cancer Support Community

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Kim Thiboldeaux

Kim Thiboldeaux

Executive Chair of the Cancer Support Community

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