Jennifer Singleterry 

"Everyone is one degree away from cancer. That's definitely true for me and, quite frankly, everyone I have met."

Jennifer Singleterry

Bingo Barnes

Jennifer Singleterry

Jennifer Singleterry is like a lot of us, in that cancer has touched her life.

"Both of my grandmothers died of cancer when I was very young," she recalled. "My mother and my aunt both had breast cancer."

What sets Singleterry apart is her work as a senior policy expert for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, where she and her colleagues conduct research and advocate for adequate health care funding in their day-to-day effort to try and rid the world of cancer.

"We like to say at the American Cancer Society that everyone is one degree away from cancer," said Singleterry. "That's definitely true for me and, quite frankly, everyone I have met."

Prior to her Tuesday, Oct. 9, visit to Boise to speak at the Idaho Cancer Policy Breakfast, Singleterry spent time with Boise Weekly to talk about why Idaho is behind in the fight against cancer and scored low marks in the ACS's "How Do You Measure Up?" report.

Can I assume that your work is as much a calling as it is a profession?

I started out fighting the tobacco industry, which is a very clear villain to fight against. More recently, I have moved into the health insurance policy field where the villains are less clear.

It's interesting that you use the word "villain" when talking about Big Tobacco. That said, something like 38 million Americans smoke cigarettes, and nearly half of them are living with some sort of smoking-related disease. What's the disconnect?

Some of it is money. Prevention efforts take an upfront investment, and that investment will indeed pay off, but it may be a long time from now, possibly generations from now. Quite simply, if we're getting people in their 30s to quit smoking, we're going to save a lot of money when they're 70.

Is the needle moving on this? Are we getting any better?

It completely depends on what area of the country we're talking about.

So, let's dive into Idaho and, particularly, the report card titled "How Do You Measure Up."

It measures each of our policy priorities and compares [them], apples-to-apples, across the country to see how the states measure up against one another. There's a ton of evidence showing that increasing tobacco taxes, enacting smoke-free laws and increasing prevention funding all reduce tobacco use.

Let's talk about the cigarette tax in Idaho. It's currently set at 57 cents.

You're ranked 45th in the nation.

And the average national rate is...

About $1.78. We know that increasing the price prevents youth from starting in the first place because kids don't have a lot of pocket money.

Speaking of youth and smoking, the FDA recently said youth vaping has reached the level of an epidemic in America.

There has been a huge increase in youth using e-cigarettes. It's a concern that it could be a gateway into broader tobacco use. A bigger concern is that it's still a relatively new product on the market without much regulation. We're playing catch-up.

One of the many categories in "How Do You Measure Up?" is "access to Medicaid," where the report indicates that Idaho is "falling short." You must know that the possibility of Medicaid expansion in Idaho is on the ballot this November.

Absolutely. And we're looking at this from two different angles: No. 1, from the angle of someone who is diagnosed with cancer. That's terrifying, and being faced with that diagnosis without insurance, I can't even imagine. We ran some numbers, and in each of our scenarios for breast, lung and colorectal cancer, treatments were over $100,000. No. 2, we looked at all of the people who could potentially prevent cancer, getting those screenings, catching it earlier when it's less costly or less onerous to travel. Expanding Medicaid simply means a lot more adults would have the insurance to be screened for cancer, to help fund tobacco cessation and get an annual physical, which is so important in reducing cancer risk.

Assuming that you regularly speak to groups similar to the one at the Idaho Cancer Policy Breakfast, what resonates best with people coming from all different levels of society?

Imagine getting a cancer diagnosis. What's the thought process? First, it's shock. Then, you get scared about what's going to happen to you. Usually the next thought is, "What is this going to cost me?" It's scary if you're uninsured. And this Medicaid expansion initiative can help a group of people who are low-income, for sure, but it will also help those working more than one job who certainly deserve health insurance.

One last note: I would be remiss if I didn't take note that we're speaking on Sept. 27, as Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford are testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. What's it like being in Washington, D.C., these days?

I'm very thankful my commute doesn't go through Capitol Hill like some of my colleagues ... My desk is usually close to a television in our office. Right now, the volume is muted.

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