The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was found to be effective in making recommended colorectal cancer screening more affordable and accessible for millions of Americans, according to a new study.
The research study focused on how the ACA, also referred to as Obamacare, affected early cancer diagnoses in seniors, especially in colorectal and breast cancer.
The findings point to an 8 percent increase in early-stage colorectal cancer diagnoses from 2011 to 2013, translating to an increase of 8,400 early-stage colorectal cancer diagnoses in seniors. But the study found no discernible effect on the number of early-stage breast cancer diagnoses during those years.
The study, “Affordable Care Act Changes To Medicare Led To Increased Diagnoses Of Early-Stage Colorectal Cancer Among Seniors,” was published in the journal Health Affairs.
It was led by Aaron Yao, an assistant professor of public health sciences, and Brett Lissenden, a graduate student in an economics PhD program, both of the University of Virginia.
The researchers suggest the diagnoses for colorectal cancer were higher because the decrease in out-of-pocket spending was higher than in breast cancer screening, although enactment of the ACA made the screenings more affordable and accessible to all Americans.
These two cancers are some of the most common cancers in the United States and those in which technology allows the greatest chance of detection at an early and treatable stage.
“The main finding is that from 2011 to 2013, the ACA resulted in an 8 percent increase in the diagnoses of early-stage colorectal cancer among U.S. seniors aged 65 and older,” Lissenden said.
To assess how the ACA had an impact on early-stage diagnoses of breast and colorectal cancer, the authors used population-based data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program, which pulls data from 18 cancer registries across the U.S.
“It covers about 28 percent of the U.S. population. It’s kind of the gold standard for studying cancer incidences,” Yao said.
Yao and Lissenden used data from patients diagnosed with their first cancer between 2008 and 2013. They detected an 8 percent increase in colorectal cancer detection starting in 2011, a year after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law.
The authors did not find a distinct change in the number of early-stage breast cancer diagnoses over the same time period, however, which they said may be due to the less significant decrease in costs for this test.
Yao and Lissenden suggest that the Affordable Care Act initially helped more people get diagnosed for colorectal cancer because the decrease in out-of-pocket spending was larger for colorectal screening than for breast cancer screening.
Yao emphasized that their study is not politically motivated. “I am not a Democrat or a Republican,” he said. “I feel preventable care is very important and we need to promote that.”
Another study, conducted by American Cancer Society researchers and published in 2015, suggested the unchanged screening rates for breast cancer (the study covered the years between 2008 and 2013) could also be attributed to existing women’s health initiatives and because breast cancer screening rates in general are much higher than colorectal cancer screening.