Opinion: White House budget plan will destroy cancer treatment development
More than 50,000 Michiganians will be diagnosed with cancer this year. Fortunately, researchers have developed dozens of treatments in recent years. These new drugs will save the lives of many patients who would otherwise succumb to the disease.
Unfortunately, patients may soon lose access to some of these treatments. The White House's budget, if enacted into law, would slash Medicare by $236 billion over the next decade. These cuts will target Medicare Part B, which covers medicines like chemotherapy which are administered at doctor's offices.
The cuts would endanger Medicare beneficiaries and stifle research into future treatments.
Cancer treatments are better than ever before, helping more patients beat the disease. Five-year survival rates for cancer have increased by more than 40 percent since 1975. About three-quarters of that improvement is due to improved medicines.
This progress is poised to continue. American researchers are currently working on more than 800 drugs and vaccines for cancer.
Much of this research targets the most aggressive forms of cancer. University of Michigan researchers, for instance, are investigating a possible treatment for mesothelioma, a cancer which affects the lungs, abdomen or heart and is resistant to chemotherapy. Researchers have discovered an enzyme that is responsible for cancer cells' growth. They're hoping to figure out how to destroy the enzyme, which would then stop the cancer from spreading.
In addition, numerous small biotech companies in Michigan are developing new cancer therapies that will impact patient health while also contributing jobs and revenues to our state’s economy.
However, the budget proposal's changes to Medicare Part B could stall such research and development.
Doctors purchase Part B medications up front and then receive reimbursement from Medicare.
Until recently, Part B reimbursed doctors for the average price of the medicines they purchase, plus six percent. This additional fee helped cover the cost of ordering, storing, and delivering the medicine. Due to the automatic federal budget cuts implemented in 2013, Medicare now reimburses doctors the average drug price plus 4.3 percent.
Payments would be slashed even further by limiting Part B reimbursement growth rates to the rate of overall inflation. Medicare would no longer reimburse doctors the actual market price of the medications.
This would amount to a significant financial loss for cancer clinics and other outpatient facilities, at a time when many are already struggling to keep their doors open.
Michigan is home to more struggling cancer clinics than any other state. Our state has suffered the third highest number of clinics closures since 2008, according to a 2016 report by the Community Oncology Alliance.
Another round of reimbursement cuts could force struggling clinics to stop administering certain advanced treatments with negative margins. Patients would lose access to the most effective Part B drugs.
As the market for newer and more sophisticated Part B drugs shrinks, biotech companies would have less incentive to conduct research and develop complex medicines for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and other chronic diseases.
A slowdown in biotech innovation — particularly when it comes to cancer drugs — bodes poorly for the health of many Michigan patients. Even with recent treatment advances, cancer death rates in our state remain well above the national average.
The proposed cuts to Part B would undermine medical innovation and reduce medical access for chronically-ill seniors — all in the name of short-term federal savings. It's hard to imagine a more reckless strategy for tightening the government's belt.
Stephen Rapundalo is the president and CEO of the Michigan Biosciences Industry Association.