Seawright Announces Highly Specialized Cancer Care for Low Income, Vulnerable Patients

Highly specialized cancer care, including access to cutting-edge diagnostics, therapeutics, and clinical trials, will now be available to medically underserved communities starting in January 2023, Assembly member Rebecca Seawright announced today.

Seawright, who serves on the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, was the prime sponsor of the measure that will help reduce cancer health disparities. Funding was approved in the 2022-23 state budget and will support expanded coverage for individuals and small groups, including Medicaid-managed care plans and other qualified health plans.

“Cancer mortality is greater in populations affected by persistent poverty," said Seawright. “We are leaping forward in reducing cancer disparities and achieving health equity for more New Yorkers.

Highly specialized medical facilities designated by the federal National Cancer Institute as “cancer centers” are typically excluded from many health care plan networks. Insurers have argued that accepting the specialized National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers into their networks would cause a disproportionate increase of high-cost patients with a cancer diagnosis.

Starting in January, populations enrolled in Medicaid managed care, the Essential Plan, and other qualified health plans in the individual and small group market will have more equitable access to specialty cancer care.

The National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Centers are recognized for scientific leadership in laboratory and clinical research. The NCI cancer center designation program recognizes cancer centers that meet rigorous standards for transdisciplinary, state-of-the-art research focused on developing new and better approaches to preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer.

These institutions are at the forefront of advancing cancer care through basic research and clinical trials. Patients receiving care at NCI-designated cancer centers often receive cutting-edge care not yet available elsewhere.

For example, when the breakthrough of chimeric antigen receptor therapy (CAR-T) was first approved for large B-cell lymphoma, it was only available at 16 approved treatment sites, all of which were NCI-designated cancer centers.

A 2015 study in the journal cancer looked at survival rates for five types of common cancers – breast, colorectal, lung, pancreatic, gastric, or bile duct – and found that patients initially treated at NCI-designated cancer centers had superior survival. The study identified African American or Hispanic race/ethnicity, low socioeconomic status, and lack of private insurance as crucial barriers to receiving treatment at NCI-designated cancer centers.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Senior Vice President and Chief Health Equity Officer Carol Brown thanked Governor Kathy Hochul, Assembly Member Seawright, and State Senator Liz Krueger for “fighting to ensure that the most vulnerable New Yorkers can be treated at cancer centers across our state that are recognized by the NCI as being at the forefront of cancer diagnosis and care.”

Memorial Sloan Kettering is one of six NCI-designated cancer centers in New York State. Others include NYU Cancer Institute - Perlmutter Cancer Center, Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center of the College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University, Albert Einstein Cancer Center, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.