This year in Utah, an estimated 10,810 people will be diagnosed with cancer and another 2,790 will die of the disease.
Right now, the Utah Legislature has an opportunity to help reduce the cancer burden in our state, but instead they are considering legislation that would prohibit the governor and the Department of Health from providing low-income Utahns access to cancer screenings and life-saving treatment services. The House of Representatives is considering HB391, a bill that would deny an estimated 74,000 working individuals and families access to health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Should this legislation pass, Utah families earning less than $23,000 would be denied access to health care coverage that would allow them to see a doctor regularly, access preventive services such as Pap tests, mammograms and smoking cessation aids and avoid unnecessary visits to the emergency room. Access to these critical services enhances the likelihood of detecting cancer at an earlier and more curable stage that is far less expensive to treat.
Thousands of hard-working, low-income Utahns worry every day that they are one cancer diagnosis away from financial ruin. If the Legislature makes the right choice and fully extends lifesaving health coverage to Utahans earning less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, 189,000 individuals will have the security of knowing that they have access to proven cancer screenings and treatment services.
If we allow this legislation to pass, we will be turning our backs on 74,000 Utah taxpayers who are least able to afford health care coverage and likely need it the most. Individuals covered through Medicaid have better access to health care than do the uninsured and they are more likely to receive lifesaving cancer screenings.
The federal government has committed to paying 100 percent of the costs to increase health care coverage through Medicaid until 2017, and no less than 90 percent of the costs in the following years. By accepting the money, we could reduce the number of uninsured residents and save millions of taxpayer dollars that are currently spent to treat people in emergency rooms. Not only would HB391 deny Utahns access to care, it would also force our state to leave millions of dollars on the table.
More and more states are taking advantage of this opportunity to cover more people, reduce health care costs and save lives. Utah lawmakers should not be acting on legislation that hurts our state residents. Instead we should seek opportunities to give them a hand up, improving access to health care among our most vulnerable citizens.
It does not make sense to turn our backs on low-income Utahns and down money that has been set aside to help hardworking individuals and families. On behalf of cancer patients, survivors and their families, I urge the House of Representatives to vote no on HB391 and take action to allow our state to increasing access to care for low-income individuals and families and be a leader in the fight against cancer.
John Tangren is a volunteer at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.