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It’s well established that minority communities bear an unequal burden when it comes to cancer. Blacks continue to have the highest cancer death rates of any racial or ethnic group in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute’s latest Annual Report to the Nation on Cancer.

But expansion of Medicaid under the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), former President Barack Obama’s health care law, could provide some early steps in equalizing the playing field for minorities.

A new study looked at whether more than 30,000 patients diagnosed with advanced cancers began their treatment within 30 days. Prior to the ACA’s Medicaid expansion option, blacks were almost 5% less likely to receive prompt treatment than whites.  In states which opted to expand Medicaid, timely access to treatment increased overall regardless of race. And the difference between black and white patients starting treatment within 30 days almost disappeared.

Prompt treatment is important, no matter the type of cancer diagnosed. The study authors are now working on models to predict what treatment outcomes would be if there was no Medicaid expansion as compared with expansion in all 50 states. Florida remains against Medicaid expansion.

Cancer health disparities continue to be a major issue, said Dr. B. Lee Green, a disparities researcher who serves as vice president of Moffitt Diversity.  “We are fortunate that Moffitt has researchers who are focused on this issue and who address it from multiple angles, including access to care,” said Green.  “This study certainly highlights the importance of access to care while underscoring the continued need to study disparities in terms of survival rates and quality of life.” 

Beyond its potential impact on racial and ethnic cancer disparities, the ACA was also linked to ovarian cancer being diagnosed and treated at an earlier stage in women under age 65. This study also found that more women received treatment within 30 days of ovarian cancer diagnosis after the ACA was implemented, thus increasing their survival chances. These improvements were seen regardless of race, income level or educational level.