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.
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.
When Matt Bevin ran for the office of Governor of Kentucky, he promised to roll back the expansion of Medicaid in the state. I recently read an article about a cancer patient in Kentucky who had grave concerns about these potential changes to Medicaid. His quote, in fact, said he thought these rollbacks, might cost him his life. I was very empathetic until later in the article it noted the man had voted for Bevin because he felt policy issues other than healthcare were more important. Ultimately, Bevin was elected and now we must wait to see how his health policy will impact the people of Kentucky.
The future of health care is arguably one of the most important issues facing our nation. Costs are rising at an unsustainable rate and this could have a devastating effect on our economy. The demand will only increase as baby boomers reach the age range where they will have the greatest need for health care. Considering the bankruptcy rate for cancer patients is already double the national average, we must ask ourselves: what can we do to assure a cancer diagnosis doesn’t equal financial ruin and is our healthcare system taking this into consideration?
Just last month, 300 pound NFL linemen took to the gridiron to do battle while sporting hints of pink in their uniforms. Throughout “Pinktober,” products like cosmetics and cleaners, lotions and laxatives supported breast cancer awareness. While some have criticized what they see as an over commercialization noting that breast cancer awareness month itself was even started by a pharmaceutical company, the positive impact on women’s health has been dramatic as early diagnosis of breast cancer has led to significant improvements in five year survival rates for those diagnosed.
Like many national movements, this tsunami-like wave of awareness began as a small ripple. The notion of using a colored ribbon as a social cause symbol began in the 1970’s when the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” inspired Penny Laingen, wife of an Iran hostage, to use a yellow ribbon to show support for her husband and the other hostages. The initial color for breast cancer awareness was actually peach and created by Charlotte Hayley, a breast cancer survivor who handed out the ribbons in a grassroots effort. Then in 1991, cosmetics mogul Evelyn Lauder, as a guest editor for SELF magazine, wanted to work with Hayley and have the ribbons at cosmetic counters; Hayley declined thinking this was too commercial, so lawyers for SELF recommended changing the color. In the fall of 1991, volunteers for Susan G. Komen gave out pink ribbons at a race in New York City and the rest is history.
We recently shared the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) draft recommendations on screening for colon cancer where they did not recommend CT Colonography or FIT-DNA, available as Cologuard, the newest FDA-approved at-home screening test, as primary screening methods. However, there’s something you can do to change that: visit the USPSTF website to read their draft recommendations and leave a comment before November 2, 2015 to let your voice be heard!
In 1984, Congress passed what is commonly referred to as Hatch-Waxman, a bill intended to lower the cost of prescription drugs by making generic versions available after an exclusivity period. However, one group of medicines, called biologics, was excluded from the bill. Many of the medicines used to treat colon cancer, such as Avastin and Erbitux, are biologics and so there are not lower cost versions available; however, that may be about to change.
Your doctor is likely a member of The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which is a membership organization of more than 35,000 oncology professionals. For more than two decades ASCO has provided doctors with clinical practice guidelines to help make sure your treatment is based on the best scientific evidence. This summer, however, ASCO moved beyond traditional guidelines with the release of their draft “Value Framework.” Some believe the Value Framework represents the future of cancer care and a way to improve clinical outcomes while controlling costs; others view it as a dangerous scheme to limit your treatment based on an impersonal formula. The New York Post, with their flair for the dramatic, called it “The Cancer Death Panel App.” So just what is the Value Framework and what does it mean for your cancer care?
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