By Erica Terry

Our state and region is at a pivotal moment in history that forces all of us to ask the question – how do we address public health? The global pandemic has changed everything – from how we deliver health care, how we do business, and how we interact with others. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on so many lives – unemployment is up, which means a loss of health insurance. An entirely new population is finding itself without health insurance for the first time in their lifetime. Additionally, COVID-19 has put a microscope on the inequities in our society. It has forced the discussion – what can we do to have the biggest return on improving public health? The answer is to expand Medicaid.

At Susan G. Komen Kansas + Western Missouri, we are determined to end breast cancer forever. Our focus is to “intentionally go out of business” because we have achieved our mission. We know one of the largest barriers that is preventing us from achieving this is access to care. Expanding Medicaid is essential to preventive services being used (screening mammograms), diagnostics and treatment/care. More importantly, expanding Medicaid could help us reduce mortality rates and late-stage diagnosis of breast cancer for specific populations.

US News & World Report recently published findings from a study with data that indicates breast cancer is caught earlier in states that have expanded Medicaid. Early detection saves lives and improves health outcomes – which is our goal.

Breast cancer remains the No. 1 diagnosed cancer in women in Kansas. Unfortunately, our state has 20 counties with a higher breast cancer mortality rate than the national average. African-American women disproportionally die at a much higher rate (40 percent) than Caucasian women do from breast cancer. These data points have existed within the African-American community prior to the pandemic, and now, COVID-19 has exacerbated the inequities in the health of our community.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) director warns that we could be facing another public health crisis if we don’t resume our normal screenings at this time. He projects we will see upwards of 10,000 additional breast and colon cancer deaths over the next decade than would have been expected had COVID-19 not occurred.

This data and what we might face is why expanding Medicaid matters. It matters for the more than 3,500 women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. We must act now to expand the number of Kansans covered to proactively prevent losing the gains we have made in the fight against cancer over the past 30 years. This is why expanding Medicaid matters.

Erica Terry is chief executive officer of Susan G. Komen Kansas + Western Missouri and co-chair of the Kansas Cancer Partnership