HCN News & Notes

Massachusetts Ranks Highly Among States in Reducing Toll of Cancer

BOSTON — Massachusetts is a leader in the nation when it comes to implementing policies and passing legislation to prevent and reduce suffering and death from cancer. According to the latest edition of “How Do You Measure Up? A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality,” Massachusetts measured up to policy recommendations in six of the nine issue areas, coming in second only to California. The report was released by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

“This 16th edition of the report shows just how far we’ve come in passing policies proven to reduce suffering and death from cancer,” said Marc Hymovitz, director of Government Relations for ACS CAN in Massachusetts. “But now is certainly not the time to rest on our laurels. We have the power to make a difference for more men, women, and children in Massachusetts by implementing additional proven cancer-fighting policies.”

This year alone in Massachusetts, 37,130 people will be diagnosed with cancer, he added. “We owe it to them and everyone at risk of developing the disease to do what we know works to prevent cancer and improve access to screenings and treatment. This report shows lawmakers a legislative path forward to improve cancer prevention efforts, curb tobacco use, prioritize the quality of life for patients and their families, and increase access to critical health coverage.”

“How Do You Measure Up?” rates states in nine specific areas of public policy that can help fight cancer, including increased access to care through Medicaid, funding for cancer-screening programs, smoke-free laws, cigarette-tax levels, funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, cessation coverage under Medicaid, and restricting indoor tanning devices for minors. The report also looks at whether a state provides a balanced approach to pain medication and if it has passed policies proven to increase patient quality of life.

This year’s report also highlights a significant trend: in 2015, there were fewer than 80 state legislative proposals introduced related to pain management and opioid issues nationwide; in 2018, there have been more than 470 state legislative proposals introduced across the country regarding these same issues. “Hanging in the Balance: A Special Section on the Impact of Pain Policy” evaluates whether Massachusetts is implementing balanced pain policies and takes a deeper dive into how states can reduce opioid abuse while ensuring patients who legitimately need these drugs maintain access to them. Many cancer patients and survivors need pain medication to live and complete even the most basic day-to-day tasks — but across the country, the wave of state legislation meant to address opioid abuse has had unintended consequences, making it harder for people with cancer or chronic diseases to access legitimate pain care.

“ACS CAN commends Massachusetts lawmakers for their efforts to address the opioid epidemic. We will continue to work with them to ensure they reject policies that compromise access to appropriate pain management and continue to protect the needs of cancer patients and survivors who deal with pain every day,” said Hymovitz. “Fortunately, we have made great progress in most of the areas measured in this report. In addition to the measured benchmarks, Massachusetts has secured our place as a leader in the fight against Big Tobacco by recently becoming the sixth state in the nation to increase the age of sale of tobacco products to 21, and the first to prohibit the sale of tobacco in pharmacies.”