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Daines and Bullock should make cancer an election Issue

by Bill Underriner
| October 18, 2020 12:00 AM

Every year, roughly 2,140 Montanans die from cancer. Saving lives from cancer matters to me. Twenty years ago, my son was diagnosed with childhood cancer. Thankfully, he’s thriving now as one of the 17 million cancer survivors alive today in the United States.

The war against cancer won’t be won in research labs alone. Government officials make decisions every day about health issues that affect the lives of cancer patients and their families. Fighting cancer is as much a matter of public policy as it is of scientific discovery.

The election season offers an opportunity to raise the profile of cancer issues and educate candidates and the public about the disease. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) is doing just that through its Cancer Votes campaign, the nation’s leading voter education program to make cancer a national priority. Both major U.S. Senate candidates, Governor Steve Bullock and Senator Steve Daines, went on the record with their positions on cancer and health care issues.

Specifically, both candidates stated their positions on: Access to health care and protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions, saving lives through cancer research funding, addressing the challenges of rural cancer care, and advocating to increase health equity among American Indians.

Advancements in cancer research are saving more lives than ever. But, COVID-19 has severely impacted the cancer research ecosystem, shutting down labs and stalling research nationwide. Financial assistance is needed to get research safely back on track. Even before the pandemic, a historic number of possible breakthroughs were being left on shelves. A sustained commitment to cancer research is essential to develop new and more effective tools to prevent and treat cancer.

Funding research is only half the battle. To benefit from new treatment, people need health care coverage. The critical patient protections in the current health care law are essential for millions of Americans with serious illnesses like cancer, and these patient protections could be the difference between life and death for cancer patients and survivors. Research shows individuals without health coverage are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at a later, more costly stage and are more likely to die from it. That’s why cancer patients and survivors are counting on lawmakers to ensure people maintain access to the care they need.

To truly make progress in eliminating cancer, we must also address health inequities, such as rural cancer care challenges like long travel distances, lack of specialists and insurance obstacles, and American Indian health equity issues such as lack of access to health insurance, doctors and transportation. These challenges are prevalent in Montana.

During the election season, we know candidates are listening to what their potential constituents have to say. This is an ideal time to remind both Governor Bullock and Senator Daines that cancer must be a national priority. Visit www.cancervotes.org/montana to listen to their responses to our questions on critical cancer issues.

No matter which candidate wins, we will work with them to help reduce cancer and save lives.

Bill Underriner is an American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network National Board Member. He lives in Billings.