U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th District
What has been your personal experience with cancer?
When my mother was 46, she was diagnosed with young-onset colorectal cancer. If it wasn’t hard enough caring for my mama as she fought cancer, I also had to fight the insurance companies as they tried to deny my mom the coverage she was due.
She died at age 51, and I learned a hard truth: health care in America is not a human right. There are two health care systems in our country—one for those who have access to preventive services and quality treatment, and one for everyone else.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the disparities that exist in cancer outcomes. Black Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group for most cancers. We must demand better.
I also take every birthday very seriously. I lost my mom when she was way too young. She should have celebrated many more birthdays and you never know how many you’re going to get.
Has that personal experience shaped your approach to health policy and the importance of funding for cancer screening, prevention, and research?
Like too many Black Americans, I know the failures of our health care system because my family has lived them. Socioeconomic disparities, lack of medical coverage, barriers to early detection and screening, and unequal access to improvements in cancer treatments are obstacles that are taking the lives of Black Americans. There may also be biological differences that underlie these health disparities, and we need more research to foster better understanding that could lead to improved detection and treatment.
Even taking a step back from cancer, Black communities have the worst health outcomes and disparities across the board. While we must increase funding for cancer screening, prevention, and research, we must take a holistic look at our health care system and take steps to close all of our health disparities.
Which policy priorities or legislative efforts do you share that would fuel better prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer?
First things first, we need to get missed cancer screenings back on the books.
According to a January 2022 survey from the Prevent Cancer Foundation, half of Americans who had a scheduled in-person medical appointment, postponed, missed, or canceled one or more of these appointments. Three out of five Americans are not getting their recommended cancer screenings and three in 10 are not aware of which screenings they should be getting.
Y’all, that’s 9.5 million canceled or postponed screenings.
We must make cancer screenings available to everyone—no matter your ZIP Code, no matter your bank account.
Like seemingly every aspect of our health care system, cancer screenings are out of reach for too many people due to cost.
If we had Medicare for All, this wouldn’t be an issue. I’m just one member of Congress so I can’t make Medicare for All a reality but believe me I would if I could.
What I can do is take practical steps along the way to get people the health care and cancer screenings they need.
I’m a proud cosponsor of the Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act, which expands access to coverage and payment for early detection screening tests.
I also cosponsored and helped pass the Honoring our PACT Act, which helps expand access to screening and treatment for our veterans who had toxic exposures.
Because of my history with cancer, and the suffering it inflicts on millions of Americans every year, I fully support President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot. I’m also not going to give up on working to get Medicare for All so that we can finally reduce our country’s health inequities. For now though, let’s work to get all cancer screenings back on the books and make cancer screenings more accessible. Without these two pieces, a cure for cancer will remain as far away as the moon.
What is your message to the scientists and physicians working to make progress against cancer?
Don’t give up. You are helping families everywhere have many more birthdays, Christmases, graduations, and everyday moments together. You are doing some of the most important work anywhere—and I thank you for everything you do.