Californians must unite in the fight against out-of-control health care prices | Opinion

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This month, tens of millions of Californians received concerning news: Health insurance premiums for both CalPERS and Covered California policyholders will increase by more than 10%. As a member of the CalPERS Board of Administration, I voted against this increase. As California state treasurer, it’s my job to call out wasteful spending and explore ways to bring down costs. There are several reasons behind these soaring expenses, including pent-up demand for care delayed during the pandemic and inefficiencies in the health care system. Late-stage cancer treatment is also one of the major drivers of costs, but it’s one area of health care that can be addressed today without medical breakthroughs. A cure for cancer is a long way off, but staying current on recommended screenings allows people to detect cancer early. OPINION We have much to gain from prioritizing a detection and prevention approach. A recent study found that across the U.S., closing screening gaps and enabling everyone eligible to follow U.S. Preventive Services Task Force screening guidelines for the most common cancers (breast, colorectal, cervical and lung) could save millions of life-years and create an additional $1.7-$2.7 trillion in economic value. Staying healthier not only reduces treatment costs, it allows us to contribute more to the economy and society. For me and many others, when it comes to cancer, it’s about more than just policy and the pocketbook, it’s personal. I contracted Hepatitis B from my mother at birth, which increases my risk of developing liver cancer. This makes routine screenings and tests essential to monitor my liver health and detect cancer before it spreads. Regular screenings paid off for my mother when doctors detected liver cancer in its earliest stages, helping to add at least 10 more years to her life. It makes all the sense in the world to me: If you invest in prevention and screening on the front end, you will save money, time, pain and grief on the back end. Late-stage cancer treatment accounts for most of the cancer costs, yet many Californians are not getting recommended cancer screenings even though the tools for early detection are covered. If we’re paying more for health care, we should expect more. While the incidence of colorectal cancer is increasing at 2% a year, screening rates have barely budged. Between 2012 and 2020, there was less than a 2% improvement, and about 30% of eligible U.S. adults are behind. This is not just a matter of cost and efficiency, but of equity. The access gap in cancer screening rates and outcomes fall disproportionately on Black men, who are over two times more likely to die of prostate cancer, as well as Black women, who are over 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than their white counterparts. We can do better. We must learn from the COVID pandemic and adopt innovative approaches to make cancer screenings and other care more convenient, efficient and equitable. During the pandemic, we brought testing and screenings to workplaces, worship places and living spaces. We should do the same for other health concerns by providing at-home screening kits and telehealth care advocates to guide individuals through the process. By removing barriers and making screenings accessible, we can save valuable time, money and countless lives. While we explore and implement innovative solutions to address health care costs, I urge all Californians to get their recommended screenings now. By investing in preventive care, promoting early detection and ensuring equitable access to screenings, we can protect California’s economy and improve the health of our residents. It’s time for California to unite in the fight against out-of-control health care prices and demand that we get what we pay for.

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