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Last Monday, August 22, Political Wire selected as its Quote of the Day the following statement by GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain:

"If ObamaCare had been fully implemented when I caught cancer, I'd be dead."

In the video clip available on Political Wire, Cain explains his reasoning.

1. He could go to the doctors of his own choosing (which the Affordable Care Act allegedly would deprive him of).

2. He didn't have to endure an inordinately long wait to get a CAT scan as alledgedly happens in "other countries" (probably referring to Canada).

3. "Bureaucrats in Washington, DC" alledgedly would have curtailed his access to the appropriate treatment.

I am happy for Mr. Cain that he is apparently recovered from cancer, and can only admire the courage of someone who had to deal with something so mentally and physically arduous that it is beyond my imagination. Still, I think that his reasoning is 180 degrees off.

His three points above are, at best, vast overstatements, in my view. Points 1 and 3 together get at the issue of access to doctors and treatment.

According to a letter from the Congressional Budget Office to Sen. Kennedy in 2009, the CBO's best estimate was that, under some of the leading reform bills under consideration at the time, 90% of individuals receiving employer-provided health coverage would continue to do so. Thus, barring a mass exodus of doctors from insurance plans' provider networks, individuals' access to their existing physicians would likely stay the same.

I don't know if it's really necessary to respond to Point 2, as the U.S. did not adopt the Canadian system. Still, it is worth noting that Canada has been found to be among the world leaders in cancer survival and general medical treatment, sometimes falling somewhat below the U.S. and sometimes not (here and here).

However, Cain's whole line of argument misses a key determinant of cancer survivability in the U.S., namely whether people have health insurance or not. A 2008 study by the American Cancer Society, reported in an MSNBC article, found that:

"Uninsured cancer patients are nearly twice as likely to die within five years as those with private coverage, according to the first national study of its kind and one that sheds light on troubling health care obstacles."

The article quotes Ken Thorpe, an Emory University health policy researcher, to the effect that, “Insurance makes a big difference in how early you are detecting disease.” Further, according to the article:

"A Kaiser Family Foundation survey last year [2007] of 930 households that dealt with cancer found that more than one in four uninsured patients delayed treatment — or decided not to get it — because of the cost." It has thus been uninsured cancer patients (or people who suspect they might have cancer) right here in the U.S. who have been forced to endure delays and rely on pharmaceutical company donations of chemotherapy drugs.

Obamacare, which is projected to extend health insurance coverage to roughly 31 million Americans, should thus increase the number of people gaining access to early detection and treatment of cancer, not decrease it as suggested by Cain.

Originally posted to ProfAlan on Sat Aug 27, 2011 at 11:22 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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