Congress: Stand with America's cancer survivors and repeal the medical device tax
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I never thought I would be a cancer survivor. But not long after my 58th birthday, my busy (some would call it tumultuous!) life as a corporate executive search professional was upended after my colonoscopy result was delivered to me: I had cancer. “Probable metastatic colon cancer” to be exact and I would need surgery to find out what my prognosis would be.

It turns out I was lucky. After my surgery, my doctors downgraded my cancer and started me on six months of chemotherapy. Every Monday, drugs were infused into my body, and I felt sicker and sicker. But I made it.


Finished with chemo, I was released into the observation phase of care and instructed to get a CT scan every quarter. Rather than feeling happy about the cessation of the weekly treatment, I felt alone without my care team to give me encouragement and support. I began to realize that something was missing from the care transition process: an ongoing and trustworthy support network.

So, I decided to channel my energies into founding a community dedicated to helping and empowering patients, survivors, and caregivers on their own cancer journeys. That support started in many forms: from swapping tips for how to get through chemo to providing a forum where patient leaders can share their stories in a safe environment. It’s grown into an incredible sharing network of people helping and supporting others through cancer.  

Empowering others has also grown to mean creating a space where patients can learn to be good advocates, so they can speak up and hold lawmakers accountable to change policies that threaten their access to care. 

One such threat is the medical device tax. From the patient perspective, what concerns me the most is the serious consequences the tax could have on the future of medical technology innovation. While manufacturers of medical equipment are forced to set aside extra resources to comply with the tax, fewer resources are devoted to the development of new technologies and health innovation.

For individuals living with cancer – who literally live scan to scan waiting to find out if cancer has crept back – it’s terrifying to think that new diagnostic tools could be put on hold because the companies developing them are overburdened with a tax.

Some estimates suggest the medical device tax could cause manufacturers to forego as much as $2 billion each year in funding that could be put toward research and development. Other studies show the device tax would hit small firms, especially start-ups, particularly hard. These start-ups are some of the biggest drivers of medical innovation. Taxing them means the next generation of diagnostic tools, such as CT scanners, MRI machines, and biopsy testing equipment, could be delayed by years – or even decades.

Thankfully, Congress has been wise to suspend the tax on several occasions, only allowing it to go into effect for a short time between 2013 and 2015. But the current delay only lasts until Jan. 1, 2020. After that, medical device makers will once again have to start making decisions about which treatments to continue developing and which to temporarily – or permanently – shelve.

Luckily, there are bipartisan lawmakers in Congress fighting to protect innovation by trying to repeal the device tax permanently. A bipartisan repeal bill sponsored by Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGovernment used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Appeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel MORE (R-Pa.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharGoogle completes Fitbit acquisition Hillicon Valley: Fringe social networks boosted after Capitol attack | Planned protests spark fears of violence in Trump's final days | Election security efforts likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress US Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots MORE (D-Minn.) was just introduced in the Senate with 26 co-sponsors and growing. A House bill is soon to follow.

This isn’t Congress’ first attempt to get rid of the tax. The House passed a similar repeal bill last summer with huge bipartisan majorities. The Senate almost followed suit, but unfortunately failed to include the device tax repeal in an end-the-year spending package.

This time around, the stakes are even higher. Americans living with cancer have less than a year for Congress to finally put an end to this short-sighted tax and instead encourage health care innovation and investment. The clock is ticking. And my next scan is just around the corner.

Erika Hanson Brown is Founding Mayor of COLONTOWN, an online community of colorectal cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers.