August 21, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Report: Michigan fails to give enough funding for cancer screening, prevention programs

Michigan got poor grades on a report card released Thursday from a national study on states’ efforts to combat cancer.

The annual report by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, an affiliate of the American Cancer Society, found Michigan has failed to adequately fund breast, cervical and colon cancer screening programs.

“We’re not measuring up (to other states),” Judy Rotger, Michigan government relations director for the cancer society’s network, said of Michigan’s grades. “Compared to the other states we’re not doing as well.”

The group blamed moves by Michigan lawmakers to eliminate funding for the state’s cancer prevention program in the Health and Wellness Fund, though a half million dollars of that funding will be restored in the budget year that starts Oct. 1.

The cuts have resulted in less money for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program that provides free screenings for under-insured or uninsured women, according to Rotger.

Michigan Department of Community Health spokeswoman Angela Minicuci responded that more Michigan residents are insured than ever before. Michigan is among 26 states to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. Since the Healthy Michigan Plan, the state’s expanded Medicaid program , launched on April 1, the program has enrolled 369,511 Michiganians.

“It’s important to note that the Healthy Michigan Plan is a tremendous step forward in providing preventive care to our residents,” Minicuci said. “Because of this, more than 60 percent of the women who were previously served by the Michigan’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program are now eligible to enroll in the Healthy Michigan Plan.”

During the 2013 fiscal year, more than 30,000 uninsured and underinsured women ages 40-64 were served by the state’s breast and cervical screening program, Minicuci said. During the same period, the Michigan Colorectal Cancer Early Detection Program provided more than 1,300 screenings for colorectal cancer.

“Many of those who received these screenings are eligible for the Healthy Michigan Plan,” Minicuci said.

“About a decade ago, the program was funded at about $6 million (annually),” Rotger said, noting the society’s goal is to have the full amount restored to the budget by 2016. “It (has been reduced) to about $900,000.”

The national study evaluated each state’s activity on 12 issues crucial to winning the fight against cancer. Michigan was rated as “falling short” on six, including breast and cervical cancer detection, tanning salon restrictions and schools’ physical education requirements.

The state also got failing grades for tobacco prevention funding and allowing health insurance companies to charge higher rates for smokers. The practice is ineffective in encouraging smokers to quit, the society argues, could discourage them from buying health insurance. Michigan also falls short for not increasing the tobacco tax since 2004.

“Studies have shown that price has an effect on use initiation, (but) over time people get used to that price and it’s less effective,” Rotger explained, noting the American Cancer Society recommends states increase their cigarette tax every six years.

Michigan was rated as “doing well” on four of the 12 measures, including its smoke-free laws and the current cigarette tax rate of $2 per pack.

Other high grades were awarded for increasing access to Medicaid through the Michigan’s Medicaid expansion, and for protecting cancer patients’ access to pain medications.

Michigan was graded as “making progress” on Medicaid patients’ access to tobacco cessation programs, and access to palliative care, which includes measures to improve the quality of life for cancer patients.

“We could do a better effort of making sure that all of a patient’s care providers are coordinating with each other to make sure that the patient has a good plan (for treatment),” Rotger said.

kbouffard@detroitnews.com