Breast cancer is not a partisan issue — we need to work together to address it

Breast cancer is not a partisan issue — we need to work together to address it
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We are living in the age of outrage and hyper partisanship, which makes any casual observer of our national political scene wonder if it’s possible to agree on anything. Yet despite the gridlock, average Americans are counting on our elected leaders to set aside their differences occasionally and actually work together to solve real issues that affect their daily lives.

But is that possible? Is there anything that our divided government can agree on? Here are three things that Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on:

  1. No one should die from breast cancer just because they couldn’t access the care they need.

  2. Decisions about life-saving treatments should be made between the patient and their doctor.

  3. Our responsibility to protect our citizens from threats should extend to protecting their health, including a commitment to medical research.

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As the CEO of the nation’s leading breast cancer organization, I can attest to the fact that breast cancer is not a partisan issue. The reality is nearly everyone in this country has been touched in some way by this dreadful disease or has someone in their life that they would move mountains to protect from its deadly grip. Sadly, more than 42,000 women and men die from breast cancer each year in the U.S. — it doesn’t have to be this way. Together, we can drive government action to make the broad, systemic and lasting change we need to help us save lives.

The first step would be to strengthen our commitment to ensuring people get screened for breast cancer. Many people who are uninsured or underinsured rely on the local screening clinics funded by the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. In addition to continuing to support this vital program, it is time to modernize the state programs to expand eligibility so fewer women fall through the cracks. And if a woman’s screening results raise concerns, we need to ensure she has access to free or low-cost diagnostic services.

While we have done a tremendous job of expanding access to low-cost or free screening services, it does people no good to discover they have cancer if they can’t get the treatment they need. That means we need to work together to protect access to affordable, high-quality health care for all patients by expanding Medicaid, increasing eligibility for Medicaid’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program and ensuring continued access to Medicaid coverage without burdensome restrictions.

Once diagnosed with breast cancer, decisions about what treatment a patient gets should unquestionably be made by the doctor and the patient, based on what is most effective with the least toxic side effects. Yet this does not always happen today.

To protect doctor patient preference in decision-making, we need to reduce cost and address barriers to breast cancer treatments, such as requiring that insurance companies and government programs eliminate the difference in cost structure between oral chemotherapy drugs and those that are given through IV. Other reforms should include precluding specialty drug tiers, preventing protocols that require step therapy (trying cheaper alternative drugs first to show they won’t work before moving on to the next drug, which ultimately wastes time that can be critical for a cancer patient), and preventing switching of medications for non-medical reasons.

Finally, we all know that research is the only thing that is ultimately going to cure cancer. Therefore, we must remain committed to funding research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and at the Department of Defense (DOD).

The temptation of these political times is to run to the fringes in a fight for headlines in pursuit of the next election. Unfortunately, the more than 270,000 men and women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year can’t afford to wait. By working together to find common ground, we can save lives.

Paula Schneider, a breast cancer survivor, is president and CEO of Susan G. Komen.