Cancer policies: Still room for improvement in Illinois


Perhaps it is timely that as children head back to school, the state of Illinois just received its report card from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) on legislative activity aimed at reducing cancer incidence and mortality.

The report (PDF), published Thursday, Aug. 21, takes an up-close look at where each state stands on issues that are critical to making progress in the fight against cancer.

So, how does Illinois measure up? The state was considered to be “doing well” in six of 12 priority areas, including three on tobacco issues (cigarette tax rates, tobacco tax and price increases over time, and smoke-free laws), two in cancer prevention initiatives (indoor tanning device restrictions and breast and cervical cancer early detection), and one concerning access to care (increased access to Medicaid).

Illinois was deemed as making “some progress” in establishing physical education time requirements (to reduce obesity and cancer risk) and access to palliative care – specialized, comprehensive medical care focused on providing the best possible quality of life for a patient of a serious illness and their family.

That leaves four of 12 priority areas in which Illinois cancer patients and their families deserve significantly more effort.

The state fell short in the areas of Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation and tobacco prevention funding, as well as instituting an adequate palliative care policy that makes sense for cancer patients. Illinois has also failed to ban or limit higher premiums for tobacco users in the individual health insurance market – a practice viewed by many as pricing out of the market the very people who need access to subsidized or covered smoking cessation programs.

The University of Chicago Medicine was proud to be a part of last week’s Smoking Cessation Awareness Week in Chicago.

Having policies and programs in place to encourage and support people who are trying to quit tobacco can be complicated. But everyone can play an important role in helping Illinois improve its overall performance in this key public health area.

High cigarette taxes help to make smoking unaffordable for the most vulnerable, including the youth.

Illinois has a cigarette excise tax higher than the average across states, and instituted a $1 increase in 2012. In 2014, the City of Chicago pushed the total taxes on cigarettes to $7.17 per pack, the highest in the nation. Moreover, the smoke-free legislation in the state is among the nation’s best and was recently expanded to ban on-campus smoking for state colleges and universities, starting next July.

These successes, however, are only one side of the coin. Although public health experts support proven strategies to prevent children and adults from using tobacco and helping current users quit, few states have invested significantly in these strategies.

Funding to Illinois-wide, comprehensive tobacco control programs is only approximately 8% of what is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to eliminate tobacco-caused death and disease. Medicaid beneficiaries have a significantly higher smoking rate than the general population; yet Illinois fails to provide comprehensive tobacco cessation coverage under Medicaid, and many barriers exist to access the coverage that is provided.

In contrast, Indiana provides access to both individual and group counseling and covers all seven Federal Drug Administration-approved tobacco cessation medications for all Medicaid employees.

How can you help Illinois earn a passing grade on all of these issues?

The most critical way is to have your voice heard and tell your state and local legislators why reducing the incidence and mortality of cancer is important to you.

Write to your legislators, go to Springfield, publish a letter-to-the-editor in your local newspaper yourself, or join an advocacy organization like ACS CAN. It is essential to hold your elected officials accountable for making cancer patients and their families a priority. After all, they do work for you.

About Kathleen Goss (30 Articles)
Kathleen Goss, PhD, is the Director for Strategic Partnerships and senior science writer at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center.
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