Pushing up public awareness

by Rhonda Mullen

In 2007, the American Cancer Society (ACS) took a bold step. It decided to use the bulk of its $1 billion annual budget for an advertising campaign.

Why? CEO John Seffrin explained at a recent Future Makers lecture at Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center. ACS leaders realized that one thing in particular was keeping them from reaching their goals to decrease cancer mortality by 50%, reduce cancer incidence rates by 25%, and measurably improve the quality of life for people with cancer. That one thing was access to quality health care for all people.

Poster - Don't Let the U.S. Senate Leave Women Exposed

Why is access so important? The numbers are revealing. According to research quoted by Seffrin, 40% of cancer patients have skipped treatment, cut pills, or not filled prescriptions due to cost, 46% have used up all or most of their savings, 41% have been unable to pay for basic necessities (food, heat, housing), and 35% have sought charity aid or public assistance. Furthermore, in a 1999–2000 study of colorectal cancer survival, those with private health insurance fared substantially better than the uninsured or people on Medicaid.



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The Access to Care campaign launched by the ACS sought to frame the issue of health insurance coverage and educate the public. It encouraged people to take action on the issue and propelled cancer issues to the forefront of the national discussion about reform. One ad featuring a bright red push-up bra drew attention to fierce opposition to a small business health insurance bill in the U.S. Senate that would have endangered coverage for mammograms. Another series of videos and ads focused on the stories of people with cancer. Their theme: "No one deserves to get cancer. But everyone deserves the right to fight it."

An editorialist in the New York Times wrote in September 2007 that the campaign was bringing "home in gripping terms what happens to people without health insurance. When it comes to dealing with cancer, any delay in detection or treatment, as is common among the uninsured or poorly insured, can be fatal."

The ACS was heartened by response from the public and lawmakers to its campaign, Seffrin told his audience. "Our case is ever more compelling," he said. "The disposition of the health care community has changed. We have strong allies in Congress. Public awareness and concern is growing."