Senate passage of the California Cancer Care Equity Act a key step in expanding access to cancer care
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Cancer Care Is Different (CCID) Coalition today celebrates the unanimous California State Senate passage of the California Cancer Care Equity Act (SB 987), a bill that would expand access to specialized cancer care for Medi-Cal patients diagnosed with complex cancers. The 34 to 0 vote moves the bill on to the Assembly, where it is expected to be heard by the Assembly Health Committee next month.
If passed, the California Cancer Care Equity Act (CCCEA) would help remove barriers that prevent access to leading-edge care for Medi-Cal beneficiaries — a group who represents approximately one-third of California’s population. The legislation is a critical step toward connecting more Californians, particularly those from underserved communities, with optimal cancer treatment and saving more lives.
“This year, more than 189,000 Californians will hear the terrifying words ‘you have cancer,’” said Harlan Levine, M.D., president of Strategy and Business Ventures at City of Hope. “While innovation has dramatically impacted survival, many patients, particularly those from underserved communities, are unable to access the most highly specialized treatments, clinical trials and care from the subspecialists most likely to help save their lives. This is particularly true for Medi-Cal beneficiaries, and this bill makes a bold statement that we will not leave them behind.”
Studies have shown that systemic barriers to adequate cancer care result in worse outcomes for underserved minority groups, those lacking private insurance and those with a lower socioeconomic status. For instance, African American men and women have a 111% and 39% higher risk of dying from prostate cancer and breast cancer, respectively, compared with their white counterparts. Hispanic women experience stomach cancer incidence and death rates that are more than twice as high as white women. Despite having the highest rates of Medi-Cal enrollment (44.3% and 44.9% respectively), approximately 30% of African Americans and Hispanics reported the quality of care accessible in their area as a barrier to seeking treatment.
These disparities are in part due to a lack of access to specialized cancer care, such as genomic testing, precision medicine-based care, subspecialty expertise and clinical trials. Patients insured by Medi-Cal who are diagnosed with breast, colon, lung and rectal cancers are more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage of disease and have less favorable five-year survival rates than commercially insured patients, according to a study from University of California Davis.
The CCCEA will provide a choice to Medi-Cal cancer patients diagnosed with complex cancers so that they can better understand their diagnosis and receive the care they believe is best for them, regardless of their insurance or zip code. In line with the Biden Administration’s reignition of the Cancer Moonshot, the legislation would help address disparities in access to leading treatments, such as precision medicine and opportunities to participate in clinical trials.
“The California Cancer Care Equity Act, if passed, will be a major milestone in improving access to care and reducing disparities in cancer outcomes. We’ve seen incredible innovation in cancer treatments over the past decade, and it is vital that we take a close look at how we deliver innovations in care to equitably reach patients,” said the bill’s author, Senator Anthony Portantino (SD-25). “With the Senate passage, we have cleared our first big hurdle in expanding access to leading-edge treatments for Medi-Cal patients, and I am hopeful that the Assembly will now help us to continue this important work.”
The bill now moves to the Assembly, where it is expected to be heard by the Assembly Health Committee chaired by Assembly Member Jim Wood by late June. The CCID Coalition encourages Californians to show their ongoing support for this groundbreaking legislation by reaching out to their legislator through the CCID website.
“We applaud the California Senate for advancing the California Cancer Care Equity Act, a crucial step toward expanding access to care for underserved patients in California,” said Molly Guthrie, vice president of Public Policy & Advocacy for Susan G. Komen. “With more than 31,720 women in California expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year alone, this legislation would help deliver high-quality treatment and care regardless of their insurance status and can mean the difference between life and death. We urge the Assembly to pass the California Cancer Care Equity Act without delay.”
“All patients — including those from communities that are historically underserved — deserve to have the choice to receive treatment from cancer subspecialists. Unfortunately, that’s not the case today. The California Cancer Care Equity Act represents a long overdue shift in the approach used to think about and treat cancer patients,” said Thea Zajac, California advocacy director for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “SB 987 will help ensure all Californians with cancer can access the full array of treatments. We look forward to working with assembly members to make this bill law.”
“Cancer is the leading killer for the Hispanic/Latino community in the United States. The California Cancer Care Equity Act would help address systemic barriers that contribute to these worse health outcomes for minorities,” said Ysabel Duron, founder and executive director for the Latino Cancer Institute. “Hispanics have one of the highest rates of enrollment in Medi-Cal, yet Medi-Cal beneficiaries experience worse outcomes for several cancer types compared to patients with commercial insurance. All cancer patients — regardless of race, insurance status or zip code — deserve access to optimal care, and we urge the Assembly to advance this bill immediately.”
The CCID Coalition’s vision is for each Californian diagnosed with cancer to have access to the cancer treatments most appropriate for their individual diagnosis.
About Cancer Care Is Different
Cancer Care Is Different is a coalition-based campaign effort focused on raising awareness of the need to improve cancer care delivery in California. Partners in this effort include City of Hope, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Susan G. Komen, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, National Marrow Donor Program/Be The Match,North Bay Cancer Alliance, Lazarex Cancer Foundation, Triage Cancer, The Latino Cancer Institute and California Black Health Network.