The racial disparity between white and black cancer patients in accessing timely treatments has virtually disappeared in states where Medicaid expanded under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to a new study. Yale Cancer Center researchers analyzed more than 30,000 health records and found that, prior to Medicaid expansion, black adults with advanced or metastatic cancer were 4.8 percentage points less likely than white adults to begin treatments within 30 days of being diagnosed. But in states where Medicaid was expanded, in 2014 or later, the percentage of black patients getting timely treatment rose from 43.5 percent to 49.6 percent. There also was a small improvement in expansion states among white patients receiving timely treatment – from 48.3 percent to 50.3 percent – bringing the post-expansion difference between the two racial groups to less than one percentage point. “Our results suggest that Medicaid expansion led to improved health equity,” said study author Amy Davidoff, a senior research scientist at Yale School of Public Health and in Yale Cancer Center’s Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy, and Effectiveness Research Center (COPPER).
A genetic test that helps doctors determine how best to treat breast cancer—and whether chemotherapy is likely to help—is significantly more likely to be administered to white women than blacks or Hispanics, a Yale study has found. The test, called Oncotype Dx (ODx), uses gene expression to gauge how early-stage breast cancer is affecting patients’ gene activity. It uses the information to determine how likely cancer recurrence would be, and physicians and their patients can use that knowledge to decide how to proceed with treatment. Yale researchers retrospectively analyzed a group of more than 8,000 Connecticut women who were diagnosed with hormone receptor positive breast cancer between 2011 and 2013, and found “significant racial and ethnic disparities in use of this new gene test,” said study leader Dr. Cary Gross, a member of Yale Cancer Center and professor of medicine and epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine. “It reinforces that, at the same time we are investing in developing new treatments and new testing strategies and we’re promoting them with great excitement, we really need to double-down our efforts to eliminate disparity,” Gross said.
Medicare-funded breast cancer screenings jumped 44 percent from $666 million to $962 million from 2001 to 2009, yet those added costs did not improve early detection rates among the 65 and older Medicare population, according to a Yale School of Medicine study published recently in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The increase was due mostly to the use of costlier digital mammography ($115 per screening) compared to film mammography ($73 per screening), along with newer and expensive screening and adjunct technologies, including breast ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and biopsy. The study is the second from Yale since January 2013 to conclude that increased Medicare spending for breast cancer screening does not necessarily translate into better outcomes. The latest study has spurred debate about the cost and value of mammography in Medicare beneficiaries, particularly women 75 and older. Some physicians recommend continued screening, while others argue that it is unnecessary and only fuels anxiety among older women.