The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down and forced many to realize what truly matters — the health and safety of ourselves, our loved ones, first responders and those all around the globe. Unfortunately, as we continue to fight against this virus many other illnesses and diseases are falling to the wayside, which is causing an inordinate number of medical complications and deaths.
Cancer, like COVID-19, has touched the lives of almost every American in some way, including our current president — who has personally fought to find a cure for almost a decade. While vice president in the Obama administration he led the Cancer Moonshot Taskforce and after the term ended he started the Biden Cancer Initiative. Unfortunately, it seems his fervor for winning this fight seems to have dissipated as his own administration is attempting to cut serious funding for cancer treatment.
Biden’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is attempting to cut 8.75 percent of the funding for radiation therapy services in their 2022 Medicare physician Fee Schedule. At the same time, CMS is modifying the radiation oncology model in their 2022 Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System proposed rule. Implementing one cut to cancer treatment funding is bad enough, but CMS is choosing to implement two gigantic reductions while we continue to fight a global pandemic.
These funding cuts will not only stall any work being done to cure cancer in the future but undoubtedly hurt those fighting the fight against cancer right now. If CMS succeeds in implementing these proposed cutbacks more Americans will suffer and die, especially in minority and disadvantaged communities.
According to the American Cancer Society, Black Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial or ethnic group for most cancers. If treatment funding is cut even a little bit, the disproportionate effect it will have on our community will be astronomical.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research shows that in my home state of Maryland, cancer is the second leading cause of death. In 2017, 10,796 Marylanders died from cancer. In 2021, the Cancer Statistic Center estimates 11,010 Marylanders will die from cancer. As the pandemic has already limited the availability and access for preventative screenings, treatments and medical appointments, this number will only increase.
So far, COVID-19 has caused millions of preventative procedures like mammograms and colonoscopies to be postponed. The U.S. National Cancer Institute estimates there will be nearly 10,000 extra deaths over the next decade due to these lifesaving screenings being postponed.
If these funding cuts are applied, cancer treatments and oncology devices will be reimbursed at a much lower rate, making them more expensive for patients and for the small cancer treatment centers trying to heal them. This will result in cancer treatment centers closing down and patients driving on average six hours to find treatment elsewhere, which will disproportionately affect minority, rural and low-income communities
President Biden knows the pain that comes from watching a loved one suffer and lose the fight against cancer, so he must also know that his own administration is making impossible any serious effort to cure cancer and close the gap in healthcare equality. We wait to see what he does about it.
Michael Stephen Steele is a conservative political commentator. He was the chair of the Republican National Committee from 2009-2011. Prior to that, he served as the seventh lieutenant governor of Maryland from 2003-2007.