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What Obama Isn’t Saying About Breast Cancer Successes in America

By Elizabeth Lee Vliet, M.D.

While hundreds of  thousands of Americans marched against the government’s hijacking of health-care in Washington Saturday, President Obama was in Minnesota promoting his own myopic version of health-care reform.  During his speech, the President referred to a woman in Texas whose undisclosed pre-existing acne precluded her from getting the double mastectomy she so desperately needed. “By the time her insurance was reinstated,” Obama said, “her breast cancer had more than doubled in size.”

The President’s facts were incorrect on the medical reasons for the insurance delay in this situation, as a Wall Street Journal article brought to light, but it was an effective scare tactic.   Focusing on a false horror story to scare people, the President completely ignored overwhelming data from published international studies that objectively quantifies the strengths of America’s health-care system—especially when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death among women.

The President also failed to point out another woman whose story has also had national attention lately:  Tracy Walsh, a mother of five who is alive today because of America’s sophisticated and rapid-response health-care system.  This mother of five was cured of breast cancer less than two months after her diagnosis.

As a women’s health specialist, I have many patients like Tracy Walsh who are 10, 20, and 30 year survivors of breast cancer because they had the benefits of the American health care system: early diagnosis, cutting edge treatments, and continued state of the art monitoring for recurrence.  None of my patients have even considered going to England, Canada, or Cuba for treatment! I can confidently say that if I were facing breast cancer, the United States is where I would want to be.

Studies clearly show that breast cancer survival rates are higher for the earliest stages of cancer.  In the United States, mammograms are typically done annually, and consequently breast cancers are detected earlier.  Women in the United Kingdom under the National Health Service guidelines are only allowed a mammogram every 3 years. Britain’s death rate from breast cancer is consequently much higher than in the U.S.

Nine of 10 middle-aged American women (90%) have had a mammogram, compared to less than 72% of Canadian women.  The government saves money with fewer mammograms, but what about women’s lives?

My friend who lives in England had the following to say regarding her experience with breast cancer:

“We don’t start providing mammograms until a woman is 50, and then only every 3 years. Now that I am a [breast cancer] statistic, I am having them every 2 years, but that is still not brilliant – a lot can happen in 2 years.  Then when they thought I might have cancer spreading to my bowel, I was told it would be 4 or 5 monthsbefore I could get the urgent endoscopy and colonoscopy.”

Consider this:

  • The United States leads the world in treating breast cancer.
  • Women with breast cancer have a 14% higher survival rate in the United States than in Europe.
  • Five cancers – breast, prostate, thyroid, testicular and melanoma skin cancer –have 90% or higher survival rates in the United States.  Only ONE cancer – testicular – has a 90% or better survival rate in Europe.

As a small business owner, I’d be the first to admit that American health insurance options need to be reformed to increase availability and affordability.  I have limited health insurance options for me and my employees, and the premiums keep going up very year even without many claims.

Our current system needs to be revamped to emphasize prevention, reduce costs, and to expand insurance coverage.  This can be done with changes in existing state and federal regulations, without a government take over of the entire health care system.

What President Obama fails to point out, though, is that the United States leads the world in innovation to provide diagnostic technology and effective new medicines to manage and cure more diseases than ever before.

And what about advances in types of treatment? Once again, compelling statistics show that American medicine leads the way:

  • The Karolinksa Institute in Sweden found that the United States has been the country of first launch for about 50% of new cancer drugs that have come on the market internationally for the last 11 years.
  • From 1995-2005, the United States had 12 new cancer drugs launched, while the U.K. had four, Switzerland had three, Germany had two, and France had only one!
  • The same study confirmed that Americans also have better access to new cancer drugs. For example, the new lung cancer drug Erlotinib was ten times more likely to be prescribed for a patient in the USA than someone in Europe.

We need health care reform that achieves the following goals:

  • Empowers individuals to have more say over their care, not government dictates on treatment. 
  • Respects the power of free markets and competition to keep costs down, not increases taxes and federal deficit. 
  • Provides an environment for prevention, early detection, and innovation to thrive, instead of government guidelines and mandates that squelch innovation. 

All of these goals can be accomplished now, with revision of existing regulations and revisions to free market insurance plans, without waiting until 2013 or spending over 1 trillion dollars we don’t have!  We do not need to overhaul our entire  current system and risk women’s lives in the process.

President Obama and Congress need to look at our successes and focus on straightforward free market solutions that are less costly than their massive government take-over proposals.  Our lives depend upon keeping what is good about American medicine.

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