According to an article from the Detroit News, the most recent budget proposal from the Trump administration would call for cuts to Medicare to the tune of $236 billion over the following ten years. Many of these cuts would be directed towards Part B of Medicare, which helps cover the cost of treatments such as chemotherapy, which can be administered at doctor’s offices. This could limit access to needed treatments, endanger people that depend on Medicare, and suppress drug research.
The State of Rare Cancer Research
As a whole, treatment options for cancer have improved substantially in the past few decades. Overall, five year survival rates for cancer have gone up nearly 40 percent since the seventies. Cancer research is also a crowded, busy field, with almost 800 different treatments currently in the development stage. A significant portion of this research is targeted rare and aggressive types of cancer, such as mesothelioma. This cancer appears as the result of asbestos exposure, and experts have isolated an enzyme that helps mesothelioma tumors grow and spread. They are hoping to develop a drug that targets the enzyme in question.
The Risk of Medicare Cuts
However, cuts to Part B could have a chilling effect on treatment access, which would also curtail the momentum of rare cancer research. Part B helps compensate doctors, who must purchase certain medicines at market price. Historically, Part B would reimburse doctors plus six percent, which was meant to cover the costs of ordering, delivery, and storage. Budget cuts have already reduced this margin to 4.3 percent.
Limiting Treatment Access
More cuts would eventually mean that doctors would not get fully reimbursed for these same medicines, meaning that they would have to lose money to buy them. For cancer clinics and other treatment centers that are already under financial strain, such a situation would be unsustainable. This would force doctors to withhold access to many of the best rare cancer therapies because of cost.
The result of these funding cuts would be a sharp blow to rare cancer research and treatment innovation, and the loss of treatment access for many patients dealing with rare cancer. Many are left asking if there are more responsible ways for the federal government to attempt to cut back on spending without crippling Medicare, which provides essential health coverage for nearly 55 million Americans.