Changes to Social Security Administration guidelines have provided a way to expedite claims filed by Americans suffering from stage four prostate cancer.
In a recent move that could save thousands of lives, stage four prostate cancer has been added to the “compassionate allowances” list of conditions. Patients with the disease are now able to receive decisions regarding available care within days instead of weeks, months, or years.
Congressman Elijah Cummings praised the action on Monday, calling the decision important and saying it will surely affect men of all races—but especially the African American men who are disproportionately dying of the cancer.
“This disease, prostate cancer, affects one out of every six men in the United States during their lifetime so this is very serious business that we are talking about,” said Cummings. “This change in policy will expedite the applications of individuals diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer.”
“Claiming to have advanced prostate cancer as defined in the compassionate allowances listing is enough to put your application for benefits on the fast track,” he added.
Cummings said the old protocol was a death sentence for many patients, and was a grueling process that delayed access to treatment.
“In some cases, my constituents were waiting more than two years to receive a disability decision—suffering debilitating pain with no secure source of income,” he said.
Social Security Administrator Commissioner Carolyn Colvin explained how the change affects patients with recurrent prostate cancer or cancer that is spreading through their body organs and bones.
“Compassionate allowances, or CAL, allow us to quickly target the most obviously disabled individuals for allowances based on objective medical information that we can obtain quickly,” she said. “For persons who apply, or report having a CAL condition, their applications are reviewed to determine if they meet initial requirements to qualify for benefits. If they do, their claim is expedited to our current disability process.”
“The average processing time for a compassionate allowance claim for last year was 15 days, compared to 86.2 days or more through the normal process,” she said.
The compassionate allowances list was created in 2008 and initially consisted of 50 unusual diseases and cancers. Today, a total of 225 are on the list, including numerous cancers and rare disorders such as Tay Sachs disease in infants, a disorder that destroys nerve cells, brain matter, and spinal cords.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most prominent form of cancer among American men. An estimated 238,590 men were diagnosed last year, with more than 29,000 succumbing to prostate cancer.
The disease causes cells within the male reproduction system to multiply out of control. According to the American Cancer Society, African American men are 60 percent more likely than White men to be diagnosed with a prostate cancer than their White male counterparts. Their chances of dying from the disease are also two times higher than those of White men.
A survivor of cancer himself, Col. Artie L. Shelton of the Prostate Health Education Netowork, Inc. said that screening is a key to survival.
“Men are encouraged to have their prostate screened at the age of 45. However, if there is a family history of prostate cancer—a father, an uncle, or a brother, the first screening for prostate cancer should be at the age of 40,” said Shelton, whose father and uncle both battled the disease.
Dr. Sanford J. Siegel, of Chesapeake Urology Associates agreed that education about screening and testing is crucial for Black men. Siegel is a strong advocate for testing the blood for high levels of protein made in the prostate gland, or prostate-specific testing, also called PSA.
“Although prostate cancer is much more common in the African American community, African American men usually get diagnosed much later in this disease than White men,” he said. “However, if African-American men get diagnosed earlier with PSA testing and visit their physician, they are just as curable as anybody else. Unfortunately that does not happen, and we have a situation where men are dying unnecessarily from this disease.”