Health & Medicine

Kentucky falls short on cancer-fighting public policy, report states

Kentucky is falling short when it comes to supporting policies and passing legislation to prevent and reduce suffering and death from cancer.

According to the latest edition of How Do You Measure Up?: A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality, Kentucky measured up to policy recommendation in two of the 10 issue areas ranked. The report was released Thursday by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

“We’ve made tremendous progress in the way we diagnose and treat cancer across the country. But to leverage this progress, Kentucky legislators must take advantage of the opportunities to pass evidence-based laws and policies that are proven to save lives and money,” said Erica Palmer Smith, Kentucky government relations director at American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in a news release.

“In Kentucky alone in 2016, 25,720 people will be diagnosed with cancer and 10,350 will die from it. We can’t wait to take action when the stakes are that high. This report outlines ways lawmakers can make a difference by emphasizing cancer prevention, curbing tobacco use and prioritizing quality of life for patients and their families,” Palmer Smith said.

How Do You Measure Up? rates states in 10 specific areas of public policy that can help fight cancer, including smoke-free laws, tobacco tax levels, funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs and cessation coverage under Medicaid, funding for cancer screening programs and restricting indoor tanning devices for minors.

The report also looks at whether or not a state has said yes to federal funds available to increase access to care through its Medicaid program, has passed policies proven to increase patient quality of life, offers a well-balanced approach to pain medications and, for the first time, examines where states land when it comes to passing and implementing legislation to help ensure patients’ oral chemotherapy drugs are covered by insurance the same as intravenous chemotherapy.

Tobacco use remains the number one preventable cause of death so Kentucky’s biggest opportunity to save lives and reduce health care costs starts with addressing the state’s current tobacco control policies. Because statewide tobacco control policies have not been addressed in Kentucky, the report states, adult smoking rates are 74 percent higher than the national average and high school smoking rates are 56 percent higher. This is costing the state more than $2.7 billion annually in health care costs.

“As advocates, we’ve worked hard to educate Kentuckians about ways to prevent and treat cancer, but our voice is not enough if state and local policymakers don’t take action to fund and implement state policies and programs that are proven to save lives,” said Palmer Smith.

Nationally, the report finds that only four states meet six out of the 10 benchmarks measured. Maine and Massachusetts are the only two states to meet seven out of the 10 benchmarks. Oral chemotherapy fairness legislation is the most met benchmark with 42 states and the District of Columbia considered “doing well.”

Passing and implementing the policy recommendations in the report would not only save lives in Kentucky, but also save millions in long-term health care costs and in some cases would even generate additional, much-needed revenue, the report states.

To view the complete report and details on Kentucky’s grades, visit