MARTINSBURG — Two West Virginia volunteers from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN) went to Washington, D.C., recently to visit Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and express their concerns about the current health care proposals.
George Blough is a current cancer patient and advocate from Hedgesville and Lora Wilkerson, a Charleston-area resident, has a 3-year-old granddaughter who survived a cancer diagnosis due in large part to having access to Medicaid coverage, she said.
Blough has been a volunteer with ASCAN since 2006 and has volunteered with the American Cancer Society organization since 1999.
“We didn’t actually get to meet with Sen. Capito, but we were able to talk with Dana Richter, who is the health legislative assistant for Sen. Capito,” Blough said. “We were able then to express our concerns about the importance of essential health benefits, coverage for pre-existing conditions and the need for broad access to Medicaid coverage.”
Blough is a 27-year ovarian cancer survivor and just discovered her cancer has returned for a fourth time.
“I have been stage four since 1997 and my cancer has just returned again, but I am confident I will fight it and beat it again,” Blough said.
Blough said the main reason they went to D.C. to speak to Sen. Capito was to stress the impact the health care reform would have on cancer patients.
“The biggest concern for me was watching all of the health care bill things going on, and I was starting to think I don’t hear any discussion about lifetime caps or anything about pre-existing conditions. I feel me and my husband Brooke have a great relationship with Sen. Capito and we felt it was important for us to go to D.C.,” Blough said. “We needed to tell her that aside from the Medicaid and the drug opioid issues, we also want her to know that there will be 11,000 people in West Virginia who will be diagnosed this year with cancer and there are 107,000 cancer survivors in West Virginia. A lot of what we spoke about in Capito’s office was about the cancer side, what could happen if this bill is repealed and not replaced with good things.”
Blough also said changes in the new bill should be created to help accommodate cancer patients and survivors.
“I understand that there are flaws in the Obamacare act and changes need to be made, but we need a change that is going to provide better or equal protection for cancer patients and survivors,” Blough said. “Most people don’t understand that today you might be cancer free. A week from now you might find a lump in your breast, or you might not feel well and go to the doctor and have blood work done and be diagnosed with cancer. Everyone has been touched by it in some way. When we went to see Sen. Capito, we made it clear that these are important issues to people in West Virginia. We need health insurance, we need protections and we need to continue with what we already have. If they are going to replace it, then I hope that they would go back to the drawing board and be bipartisan and transparent, look at what’s good, rework it and make it part of the bill. We went to push this with Sen. Capito because we really need her to stand firm on the replacement issue and that it is fair to cancer patients, because the worst thing that could happen is a repeal with no replacement whatsoever.”
Blough said more than two million cancer survivors currently depend on Medicaid for their care.
“Prior to 2010, insurance companies could say that they were going to put a cap on how much they are willing to spend on your care and your treatment,” Blough said. “Right now they cant do that — they can’t kick you off because you are too expensive or you have pre-existing conditions. Our cause to go to D.C was we really felt urged to do this — it affects everyone. A pre-existing condition could be diabetes, it could be a heart condition, it could be anything and a lifetime cap is the same. It’s important that people who understand that those of us who want to keep parts of health care are working people, average people. We want to keep health care for everyone. A lot of families that we have seen have been fortunate to have Medicaid for things like this, so these are really critical things that we need to see stay in place and not repealed.”
Blough said the harsh reality with the new health care proposal is that people with pre-existing conditions, like cancer, might not receive the same benefits everyone else does.
“ACSCAN research has shown that people that are uninsured that come for a diagnosis are likely to get a cancer diagnosis when it is more advanced, the treatment is more expensive and the prognosis is not good. Having health care available to everyone, regardless of where they stand in the structure, is definitely important,” Blough said.
Dick Woodruff, vice president of federal relations at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, echoed Blough’s words.
“It appears that if the Majority Leader Sen. McConnell keeps by the plan that they are going to vote on Tuesday, what they will be voting on is a procedure to move the bill,” Woodruff said. “The question is, what is the bill? It’s been this ever moving target here for the past three weeks. Suffice it to say, every version that they have rolled out so far would dramatically decrease the number of people who have insurance today. That ranges anywhere from 22 million to 32 million people losing their insurance over the next 10 years depending on which approach they take.”
Woodruff said that for cancer patients, low income individuals or families, the health care benefits are even worse.
“For cancer patients, it’s really bad news — there are issues with the idea of pre-existing conditions,” Woodruff said. “This should be, in particular, a concern for people in West Virginia because so many people in West Virginia are covered by Medicaid. There are a lot of people with cancer that got their insurance from Obamacare as well.”
Woodruff said his hope is that significant changes will be made to the new health care bill before a final decision is made.
“The first thing that has to happen is the Republican leadership needs to reach across the aisle and the Democrats need to sit down and negotiate and come up with a bipartisan bill that actually helps people instead of hurting them,” Woodruff said.