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New York gets mixed grades on cancer report card

A store manager at a Smoker Friendly shop

A store manager at a Smoker Friendly shop in Pittsburgh smokes a Marlboro cigarette while posing for photographs on July 17, 2015. Credit: AP / Gene J. Puskar

New York got mixed grades on its annual cancer prevention report card, which pointed to serious deficiencies in funding for smoking cessation programs and failure to enact strong policies on indoor tanning salon use, an affiliate of the American Cancer Society said Thursday.

For 14 years, the society’s Cancer Action Network has analyzed laws in all 50 states that emphasize cancer prevention and proposed ways lawmakers can help lower incidence and deaths.

The network this year outlined 10 key areas of cancer public policy and found New York fared well in only half.

The state got a positive “green mark” on measures regulating tobacco, such as smoke-free laws and taxes on tobacco products. It also scored high on funding of screening for breast and cervical cancer, increasing access to Medicaid, and instituting a law to diminish the stark payment differences between pill-form and infused chemotherapy.

Infused chemotherapy, administered in doctors’ offices and cancer centers, generally costs patients a flat co-payment, sometimes as low as $50 for an outpatient visit. But pills, purchased at drugstores and covered under pharmacy benefit plans, can run hundreds to thousands of dollars per month.

While New York got a good grade in that area, some doctors insist the measure doesn’t go far enough.

The cancer network said the cancer-drug fairness benchmark was the only one met by a majority of states.

“We’ve made tremendous progress in the way we diagnose and treat cancer across the country,” said Julie Hart, state director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Albany. The network is the nonprofit lobbying arm of the larger organization and gears its efforts toward measures that enhance cancer prevention.

She said New York still must push for stronger laws, especially on the use of tanning salons by minors, an area where it received a red mark — a failing grade.

The state currently allows teens who are least 17 to visit a salon without parental permission. The network wants to push the age limit to 18.

New York also fell short on access to palliative cancer treatment — therapies that provide symptom relief and address the pain and emotional stress of cancer.

In addition, red marks were given in two areas linked to tobacco usage: poor coverage for smoking cessation under the umbrella of Medicaid plans, and insufficient funding overall for tobacco prevention programs.

“We have very strong smoke-free laws, but we are falling behind when it comes to tobacco control funding. That means we can’t reach certain populations,” Hart said, referring to low-income groups in which smoking tends to be prevalent and to people with poor mental health status, another population with high smoking rates.

Tobacco-related illnesses — including cancer, heart disease and lung disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD — are among the most common causes of death in people with mental health impairments, according to the American Psychological Association.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has found that people with mental health problems are 70 percent more likely to smoke than the general population.

The Cancer Action Network’s report said an estimated 110,000 people in New York will develop cancer this year and 35,000 will die of the disease.

Dr. Aaron Glatt, who chairs the Department of Medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, said strong cancer prevention policies are helpful, but the information has to flow to the public to be truly useful.

“One of the most important things in public health is the public health message,” Glatt said.

How New York’s cancer-fighting policies stack up

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network uses a color-coded system to show a state’s performance on policies and legislation focused on cancer prevention.

For each area, green shows a state has adopted evidence-based policies and best practices; yellow indicates moderate movement; and red shows where the state is falling short.

Here’s how New York rated in the network report released Thursday:

  • Cigarette tax rates: Green
  • Smoke-free laws: Green
  • Increased access to Medicaid: Green
  • Funding for early detection of breast and cervical cancer: Green
  • Oral chemotherapy parity: Green
  • Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation services: Yellow
  • Pain policy: Yellow
  • Funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs: Red
  • Restrictions on indoor tanning device use: Red
  • Access to palliative care: Red