Florida ranks almost last in cancer report on state policies

An advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society graded Florida among the worst-performing states in implementing policies to fight and prevent cancer, largely for failing to expand access to Medicaid and not taking sufficiently aggressive efforts to discourage smoking, according to a report released Thursday.

Only two states — Mississippi and Idaho — had worse grades with no positive indicators on the nine recommended public health policy stances in the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network writeup. Florida earned only one positive “green” rating for comparatively high levels of funding for a program targeting breast and cervical cancer.

The 16th annual “How You Measure Up?” report compared states on nine issues, include passing smoke-free laws to restricting indoor tanning device use. The group says adopting the suggested polices “would curb the human and financial toll of cancer in the state.”

Florida earned “yellow” ratings for “some progress” on most of the issues but failed on three, including not restricting minors from using tanning devices and not meeting the organization’s standards for covering smoking-cessation under Medicaid. It also earned a failing “red” rating for not expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Sixteen other states have also declined to expand that program under former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

The state’s only high marks in the report were for comparatively high levels of funding for the Mary Brogan Breast & Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, a Medicaid program that provides cancer screenings for medically underserved women between the ages of 50 and 64.

Florida’s funding for the program actually declined slightly to $1.8 million during this year’s legislative session, but outperformed other states compared to benchmarks from the Centers for Disease Control, said Matt Jordan, the cancer organization’s Florida government relations director. Though Jordan said it was not factored into the rankings, the Legislature also moved to make this year’s level of funding recurring rather than a one-time payment that needs to be reallocated annually by lawmakers, which the report called a “success story.”

In grading some progress the state has made on cancer policies, the report noted Florida’s cigarette tax rate, which hovers around the national average. Smoking rates in the state are about 15 percent, which Jordan said the organization hopes to decrease by raising the tax rate on cigarettes.

“We’re trying to change the conception around a cigarette tax,” he said, noting that tobacco is one of the two top causes of cancer. “This is more of a user fee … 85 percent of Floridians wouldn’t have to pay it.”

In notes on the state’s progress, the report also cited state-level legislation that was introduced to create an advisory council on palliative care and its ongoing James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program, which awards grants to researchers studying tobacco-related diseases. More than 2.1 million people nationally will receive a cancer diagnosis in 2018, according to the cancer prevention group.