In the State of the Union address, President Obama announced the most important research initiative to find a cure for cancer since the 1971 War on Cancer. Themed the “Moonshot,” this initiative seeks to break down barriers limiting scientific discovery and invest one billion dollars to help make new therapies available to patients while improving our ability to prevent cancer. The Colon Cancer Alliance vigorously supports the Moonshot; however, we believe there is an additional element that should be included in the strategy to ensure mission success.
In past blogs, we’ve talked about things our community can do to help advance research and improve treatments for patients facing the challenge of colorectal cancer, including asking Senators to pass the 21st Century Cures Act and supporting the Administration’s Moon Shot initiative. But there is a vital element of advancing research that is outside the control of the scientists who conduct the work and the entities that fund it: clinical trials—the link between scientific discovery and new treatments for colorectal cancer.
Last July, the Colon Cancer Alliance applauded members of the House of Representatives for putting patient’s lives ahead of their political differences as the House overwhelming passed the 21st Century Cures Act by a 344 to 77 margin. This landmark legislation includes $9 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support cutting-edge biomedical research; it modernizes and streamlines the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval process for new treatments; and it removes the barriers that limited use of nationwide health data to help researchers and doctors improve health outcomes.
The House bill then went to the Senate. We assumed, given the fact this legislation literally has the potential to save lives, that the Senate would make it a top priority; instead last year the Senate essentially did nothing. Now this year Senator Alexander from Tennessee, Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee (HELP) decided not to take up the House bill and instead consider a series of twenty different Senate bills that contain elements of the House version.
Medicare seeks to ensure Americans over age 65, and younger people with certain disabilities, have affordable health care. This Federal health insurance program is particularly important for our community, as colon cancer disproportionately impacts older adults. Most people are familiar with Medicare Part D, which provides coverage for prescription drugs patients buy at the pharmacy; lesser known is Part B, which covers prescription drugs administered in a physician’s office or hospital outpatient department, such as most medications that treat colon cancer.
On March 8, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a proposed rule to test changes to Part B coverage. Acting Administrator for CMS Andy Slavitt said, “These proposals would allow us to test different ways to help Medicare beneficiaries get the right medication and right care…this is consistent with our focus on testing value-based care models.” The CMS-proposed tests come in two phases: the first changes how physicians are reimbursed under Part B and will start later this year, while the second will test a variety of pricing strategies in 2017.
On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy told Congress his administration was committed to putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The human effort this would require dwarfed virtually every initiative attempted before then, and only the construction of the Panama Canal and Manhattan Project would cost more. In 1961, the world lacked the technology to achieve a lunar landing; but through research, innovation and an unwavering commitment to the goal, on July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong planted the Stars and Stripes on the moon.
Last month, President Obama tasked Vice President Biden to lead a new lunar mission that, if successful, would benefit humankind in ways far beyond space exploration. Themed “the Moonshot,” it is a new national initiative to work toward a cure for cancer and includes plans to funnel $1 billion into the project. Obama’s mission to “make America the country that cures cancer once and for all” is one all Americans should embrace. One out of every two men and one out of every three women will get cancer in their lifetime. Every single day 1,600 Americans die from cancer and colon cancer is the second leading cause of these deaths.
Unless you have been spending your days with Matt Damon on Mars, you are aware that Congressional Republicans don’t think too highly of the Affordable Care Act, AKA “Obamacare.” They have voted 59 times to repeal it and, just in case you weren’t sure where they stood, this month was number 60. What was different this time is that it made it to the President’s desk, where in a move surprising no one, it was vetoed. Republican leaders stated that the point here was to show the public what could happen if they win the White House in November.