By Petrella Robinson, for The Baltimore Sun
Published: Sep 02, 2023 at 5:27 am
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin at his Baltimore home. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)
In the battle against cancer, every victory counts, and Ben Cardin, Maryland’s Senior U.S. senator, is perhaps more familiar than anyone with these triumphs. Over his three decades on Capitol Hill, Sen. Cardin has been a tireless advocate for establishing and expanding access to cancer screenings. We know that prompt detection can make the difference between successful treatment and premature death — that’s why it is not an exaggeration to say that the senator’s legislative efforts over the years have saved countless lives, and why his latest effort holds the promise to save many more.
As we prepare to welcome Senator Cardin back to private life when his term ends next year, we should take a moment to recognize his work to expand access to cancer screenings. When he was a member of the House of Representatives, Cardin wrote the bill ensuring seniors could access the latest colorectal and prostate cancer screenings. When he was in the Senate, he worked to dramatically expand coverage of these and other cancer screenings for Americans young and old. Few members of Congress get to see their legacy play out with millions of lives affected while they’re still in office. Perhaps the most significant opportunity to tackle cancer is an effort taking place in his office right now. New technology has been developed that would allow physicians to screen patients for dozens of cancers at one time. With this new technology, one draw of blood is all clinicians need to screen for dozens of types of cancers, including many for which cannot currently be screened for early. Given that 70% of cancer deaths are from types of the disease that have no approved screening tools, this is a game-changing development that will transform how doctors diagnose and treat cancer.
These multi-cancer early detection tests — MCEDs for short — can be easily administered in a doctor’s office or a community health center. This will bring improved preventive care to those in Maryland and beyond. For the many patients whose cancers would’ve otherwise spread and only be detected when they develop concerning symptoms, MCEDs create an opportunity to get treated earlier when success is much more likely. The challenge will be making these test accessible, but it’s a challenge Sen. Cardin and his bipartisan partners are taking on. As the Senator has highlighted, the laws governing Medicare do not allow for timely coverage of new preventive services. Thus, a breakthrough cancer screening — even after they’re approved by the FDA — could languish in the federal bureaucracy for untold years before Medicare beneficiaries are able to get them. Lives would be lost while an important lifesaving tool is stuck in limbo.
Sen. Cardin is a lead sponsor of legislation that will break down these barriers and created a pathway for Medicare to cover MCEDs as soon as they’re approved by the FDA. The bill is supported by more than 500 influential organizations from every state in the country as well as by top experts here in Maryland. Marylanders — and all Americans — have benefited tremendously from Sen. Cardin’s unwavering dedication to expanding health care access. Ensuring Medicare beneficiaries are able to access the latest screening technology would comprise an enduring part of his remarkable legacy, offering hope to countless individuals affected by cancer.
— Petrella Robinson, North Brentwood, Mayor of North Brentwood and President of Maryland Black Mayors Inc.