Unfortunately, the 1.7 million Americans diagnosed with cancer each year are in the cross hairs of the current trade dispute with China. This is not obvious on first glance, and likely not an intended consequence of the tariffs, but may have crucial implications on cost and availability of cancer care in the future to patients during their most vulnerable time.
The U.S. government has imposed billions of dollars of new tariffs on Chinese goods, and predictably the Chinese have taken action to do the same against American-exported goods. These tariffs are being waged against traditional products and materials – agricultural and consumer products, as well as building and manufacturing materials. But what may not be intentional is the inclusion of leading edge, cancer fighting technologies and equipment on which millions of Americans; including veterans, seniors, and patients around the world, depend upon for life saving treatment.
Precision medicine and personalized medicine have led the way in the relentless advancements on treating cancer. These therapies are driven by novel technologies and equipment that are part of the current cancer treatment course for many cancer patients. Progress in cancer therapy continues to be tied to advances that are related to access to these technologies. New therapies that uniquely deliver radiation with incredible accuracy and spare normal tissues from the side effects experienced in the past are evolving at a rapid pace. This is done with equipment that delivers outstanding clinical care with high quality and safety. Limiting access to these technologies for many of our most vulnerable Americans as a result of tariffs goes against everything we stand for in this country. Cancer care and treatment simply should not be tied to tariffs, as these patients deserve our utmost attention and access to the most comprehensive care and treatment.
Historically, medical devices and technology have not been part of the political conversation, thus kept out of trade disputes allowing the American people to continue to receive these life-saving technologies. By placing tariffs on these products, cancer patients will have less access to the best technology to treat their cancer as facilities will be forced to make financial decisions not to invest in the latest technology. At minimum, it increases the cost of access to these therapies at a time when patients have already absorbed significant financial burdens.
Unfortunately, there are already many heartbreaking stories of patients’ financial challenges that come along with a diagnosis of cancer. These tariffs will only add to the burden that cancer patients face. I submit, this is likely unintentional, and I hope that the Administration will take steps to alter the current plans that will be devastating to cancer patients and their family members.
Much of the burden of health care costs rests with the government in a variety of programs such as: Medicare, the Veterans Administration, and Medicaid. On the one hand, the government is seeking to reduce the escalation in health care costs while the on the other hand, it is imposing tariffs that will have the exact opposite effect. This lack of alignment suggests that this is likely an unintended consequence of the current trade dispute.
As healthcare providers, we want our patients to have access the best, safest, and highest quality of therapy that maintains their quality of life throughout cancer treatment. The proposed tariffs would impose an extremely negative shift in the way in which we practice medicine and deliver care in this country, undoing the tremendous advances we have made to date. This requires the attention of the Administration to make the appropriate changes to the policy.
Technology and medical devices will continue to drive and develop the future of cancer therapy, and we must continue to allow access for American patients to the best available treatments.
James Metz, MD is the Henry K Pancoast Professor and Chair of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania and Executive Director of OncoLink (http://www.oncolink.org), the oldest and largest comprehensive cancer education resource on the Internet.