06 Mar Washington politicians need to focus on cancer research
Innovation and American ingenuity will be the solution to cancer, because the United States has the best doctors, medical entrepreneurs, and researchers. It can’t come soon enough, but there are some promising breakthroughs right now. Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cell Therapy (CAR-T therapy) is an immunotherapy that has shown some promise in fighting cancer.
It is a sad truth that cancer disproportionately hits the elderly. Many older Americans are on Medicare and don’t have deep pockets to put toward expensive new innovative therapies that may extend their lives. Doctors throughout the nation have to make tough decisions every day with the elderly who suffer from cancer and other life-threatening diseases because of cost and the fact that Medicare does not cover all.
Those who are not elderly are unaware that Medicare does not cover everything older Americans need. Kevin McKechnie of the Health Savings Accounts Council wrote on August 22, 2019 about the gaps in Medicare: “deductibles can be close to $2,000 combined, and other out-of-pocket costs in Medicare are often not a flat co-pay but a percentage of the charges, which makes it difficult to budget and plan ahead.” He also pointed out that “Medicare does not cover certain important services, such as dental and vision care and hearing aids.” These are people who have worked hard and deserve quality and inexpensive health care.
The Trump administration is at a crossroads, because it has the power to allow Medicare to cover CAR-T therapy. These therapies change the blood cells of patients to battle cancer. Pharmacy Times calls the treatment “Genetically Programming the Immune System to Attack Malignant Cells” and concluded that “gene-modified cell therapy, such as CAR T-cell therapy, is revolutionizing oncology, and this ‘living drug’ model is breathing life into the hopes of patients with cancer and caregivers.” This therapy has had a large number of good outcomes and shows great promise in the elusive fight to find the cure for all cancers.
The current roadblock is the fact that many hospitals want to use this revolutionary new treatment, yet Medicare is not helping out rural hospitals to afford these treatments. Because of this urban versus rural hospital disparity, many rural seniors have to travel to big-city hospitals to get Medicare to cover these treatments. The Trump administration needs to focus on the reimbursement issues and fix them to help the elderly and poor who have cancer.
In 2018, Food and Drug commissioner Scott Gottlieb said, “There are places where I am extremely worried that if we don’t adapt the approach to reimbursement soon, we may foreclose therapeutic opportunities.” That was a year and a half ago, yet the problem still remains. Gottlieb pointed out that researchers have been “nimble” and “innovative” in the face of a government that is “ossified” in the procedures used to pay to fight rare disease and cancer.
Like the fight to deploy next-generation 5G technology to get rural areas broadband coverage, the same can be said of the CAR-T therapy. According to Axios, “Chinese scientists are attempting to develop CAR-T therapies — which genetically engineer a patient’s own immune cells to destroy cancer cells — much faster and with a much cheaper price tag than those in the U.S.” The Chinese don’t care as much about testing and oversight, so China will not have fully tested these therapies to make sure they do no harm. The U.S. should not lose the race to deploy CAR-T therapy because of a broken Medicare reimbursements system.
It is time to work to cure cancer and save lives with the aid of Trump administration policies that will reward innovation and sufficiently reimburse hospitals and doctors who are on the cutting edge of deploying this new exciting therapy.