Cancer patients benefited under universal healthcare

The U.S. military’s universal healthcare system has proved to be a big benefit for one group of patients, according to a new study.

Colon cancer patients had better survival under the universal care system compared to patients in the general population, according to Army researchers, who published their study findings in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The findings come at a time when universal healthcare is still being considered across states and at the federal level. President Joe Biden’s campaign promised a public option for healthcare insurance coverage. However, gridlock in Congress has hampered progress toward a federal-level universal system.

Additionally, colon cancer is one of the deadliest types of cancer.

"Colorectal cancer has the third highest death rate out of all cancers in the U.S. Therefore, it is highly important to improve survival of patients with colon cancer," study author Craig D. Shriver, MD, said in a statement. Shriver is a retired U.S. Army colonel and professor/director at the Murtha Cancer Center Research Program at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

The study is also somewhat new in that previous research has focused on the survival rate of patients without health insurance or on Medicaid compared to private insurance, but not outcomes for the U.S. Military Health System (MHS)a universal healthcare system.

Nearly 12,000 patients diagnosed with colon cancer from the Department of Defense's Automated Central Tumor Registry (ACTUR) were matched with more than 23,000 patients in the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database. Patients in the study were diagnosed with colon cancer between 1987 and 2013.

When compared, patients in the ACTUR registry had an 18% lower risk of death compared to those in the SEER database. Black patients in particular, who typically have a lower survival rate for the disease, fared better under the universal health care system. Additionally ACTUR patients were more likely than SEER patients to be diagnosed with Stage 1 colon cancer and less likely to be diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Cancer is easier to treat at earlier stages.

The findings add fuel to the argument that a universal healthcare system would be beneficial to patients in the U.S.

"The Military Health System provides medical care with minimal or usually no financial barriers. Thus, our findings provide solid evidence of the benefits of access to universal healthcare," Shriver said. "What's more, when medical care is universally provided to all patients, racial disparity in colon cancer outcomes can be reduced."

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