How the Lower Health Care Costs Act Will Impact the Cancer Community

On Wednesday, June 26,  the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) approved S. 1541, the Tobacco-Free Youth Act. The bill, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), would raise the national age for purchasing tobacco products to 21. 

S. 1541 was included in the manager’s amendment of a larger Senate HELP package, S. 1895, the Lower Health Care Costs Act, authored by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), which aims to end surprise medical bills. 
AACI expressed support for Leader McConnell and Senator Kaine’s efforts to raise the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. In a letter to McConnell and Kaine, AACI commended their bipartisan legislation and asked that they also include a ban on flavored e-cigarette and vaping products. The package restricts the sale of flavored e-cigarette and vaping products to youth, but does not ban flavored products outright.  
AACI members have shared concerns that flavored e-cigarettes play a significant role in youth initiation of tobacco use. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of cancer, and cancers linked to tobacco use make up 40 percent of all cancers. Eighty-one percent of youth who use tobacco products started with a flavored product and approximately 21 percent of high school students have admitted to using e-cigarettes.

The larger HELP package moved forward but includes a provision that has the potential to limit patient access to cancer care. In May, AACI weighed in on the Lower Health Care Costs Act, applauding Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray for their efforts to protect patients from surprise medical bills. AACI asked Alexander and Murray to consider including a provision to require all health care plans include access to cancer care. Specifically, AACI asked that at least one tertiary care academic cancer center be included in all health plans with co-pays and co-insurance commensurate with other network providers in order to guarantee that patients have access to sub-specialty care if needed. 

As written, Section 302 of the bill would allow insurers to create networks that exclude teaching hospitals, restricting patients’ ability to seek specialized cancer care. AACI has serious concerns with Section 302 of the Lower Health Care Costs Act and urges the Senate to reject Section 302 when it is brought to the Senate floor. 

For more information about AACI's position on S. 1541 and S. 1895, please contact Government Relations Manager Jaren Love at 412-647-2076.