Stimulus a Mixed Bag for Cancer Patients

As congressional conferees work to negotiate a compromise on the stimulus package, the cancer community is watching to see what the outcome will be for public health provisions that have the ability to improve both the fiscal and physical health of countless Americans.

Both the House and Senate versions included an increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).  But the Senate bill’s funding increase of $10 billion for medical research would make the bigger difference in the effort to fight cancer and reduce cancer mortality after years in which federal funding for medical research has been frozen or cut.  NIH funds universities and labs across the country that employ researchers and purchase goods and services, providing tremendous dividends for local economies nationwide as well.

Increased funding for Medicaid programs included in both versions would go a long way toward preserving health care coverage for more than 50 million needy Americans.  COBRA provisions would help individuals maintain affordable coverage at a time when personal budgets are severely strained.

Cancer and other chronic diseases take an expensive toll on our economy to the tune of $1 trillion a year in lost workdays and lower employee productivity.  The cancer community was sorry to see money for cancer screening and tobacco cessation stripped from the Senate version. Screening and cessation programs not only save lives – they create job opportunities as personnel is needed to carry out these critical public health programs.

The final stimulus bill may not include all of the beneficial public health provisions that were included in earlier versions of the legislation.  But, we’re hopeful that this is just the beginning of renewed commitment to prevention, wellness, tobacco control and cancer research and we look forward to seeing these critical areas get the proper funding they deserve in the upcoming appropriations process.

Daniel E. Smith is president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).  ACS CAN, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, supports evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. ACS CAN works to encourage elected officials and candidates to make cancer a top national priority. ACS CAN gives ordinary people extraordinary power to fight cancer with the training and tools they need to make their voices heard. For more information, visit www.acscan.org.