The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) estimates 1,600 people a day die from cancer in the U.S. Through the efforts of volunteers like Urbana resident Warren Stevens, ACS CAN – the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the ACS – is seeking support from Congress in an effort to find a cure for the deadly disease.
Joined by more than 700 ACS CAN volunteers from throughout the country, Stevens took part in the organization’s annual trip to the nation’s capital that included a “lobby day” in which teams of volunteers spoke to their respective state’s congressional representatives and senators in an attempt to ensure the federal government is making cancer a top priority.
Stevens, who is no stranger to the ACS having served as the initial chairman of the Champaign County Relay For Life, chairman of the county’s former ACS unit, and a former trustee on the Ohio Division of the ACS Board of Trustees, said he had “retired” from his ACS involvement until he decided several years back to visit some old acquaintances at the society’s Dublin office. During the visit, he was recruited to become an ACS CAN volunteer, and the rest is history.
On Sept. 13, Stevens and a team of fellow volunteers from Ohio visited Capitol Hill to lobby the following U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives members from Ohio along with their aides to push for more support from Congress in the fight against cancer: U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) and U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH).
Keeping cancer in the forefront
Stevens said after having a few days to look back on his time spent in Washington, D.C., the third year in a row he has made such a trip, he believes the ACS CAN lobbying efforts are starting to pay off.
“After this trip, I’m more enthused than ever about finding a cure for cancer and working toward that goal with our leaders in Washington,” he said. “If you look back at what life was like back in the 1800s and look at all the problems that have been solved since then, I’m sure we will eventually find a cure. Researchers are getting close, really close.”
While Stevens has spent decades volunteering his time to the local community and serving on various state and local boards, helping in the fight against cancer is near and dear to him.
“The main reason I am involved with the ACS CAN is because of my mother, who died of colon cancer some 18 to 20 years ago,” he said. “I’m confident one day soon, a cure will be found to save lives.”
While in Washington, D.C., ACS CAN volunteers spent their day on Capitol Hill lobbying for congressional support on three bills that are currently either in a committee or on the floor in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, Stevens said.
One of those bills seeks to make cancer research a top priority by allocating $680 million to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to fully fund President Barack Obama’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, which is being led by Vice President Joe Biden. The initiative seeks to accelerate research in hopes of eliminating cancer once and for all.
“To put it this way, if we can go to the moon, we can find a cure for cancer,” Stevens said.
While finding a way to budget nearly $700 million toward cancer research might seem like an unattainable task, Stevens said, if the average citizen can balance a budget based on personal priorities, why can’t the federal government?
“One of the arguments I took to Washington involved all the talk about the waste that goes on at the federal level and why they can’t adjust the budget,” he said. “Health is at the top of my priority in my personal budget, and I’m definitely going to have to pay my mortgage, so when it comes to cutting back on the money I’ve been wasting, those are two areas of my budget I can’t cut. I think that is the way the federal government should do it.
“People talk about all the waste that goes on (in the federal government), so maybe they need to set some priorities,” he added. “Can we put cancer higher on the priority list and maybe push some of the other stuff aside, or we need to start looking more closely at the areas where we are wasting money. Cancer is certainly an important issue to everybody in society.”
Helping seniors afford screenings
Another issue of concern among the ACS CAN is a bill seeking to remove a loophole concerning Medicare’s coverage of colorectal cancer screenings, which is leaving a lot of senior citizens with a financial hardship.
“If someone with Medicare goes in for a colonoscopy and they find a polyp that has to be removed, then they are going to charge you,” Stevens said. “In some cases, that can be between $300 and $800 to remove that polyp, which if you are a senior citizen living off of Social Security, that is a pretty big expense.
“If you go in for a colonoscopy and they don’t find any polyps, however, it’s not going to cost you anything because Medicare picks that up,” he added. “Medicare will cover the screening, but not the removal of the polyp.”
If the current bill being proposed were to pass through Congress, Stevens said, it would make sure polyp removal is covered through Medicare.
“It’s my understanding this whole glitch was created through a mistake in Obamacare,” he said. “That’s where the problem lies.”
Quality of life
ACS CAN volunteers also spent time in the nation’s capital lobbying for support of a bill focusing on palliative care and hospice education training.
“Basically, palliative care involves treating the patient and not the tumor,” Stevens said. “There is a team (usually consists of a palliative care specialist, social worker, nurse, psychologist and pharmacist) that comes in to help the patient out after they are diagnosed with cancer.”
According to an ACS CAN press release, studies show patients who receive palliative care have better quality of life, so the bill calls for an increased focus on palliative care research, workforce training and public education.
Stevens said based on his first-hand experience with talking to members of Congress and their aides, the efforts of the ACS CAN and its countless volunteers appear to be paying off.
“It seems like they are getting more and more representatives sponsoring these bills,” he said.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.