President Barack Obama’s “moon shot” to cure cancer is getting a collective eye roll from the medical community. It is not that anyone is against curing cancer. That is an issue that unites all Americans of every race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, and political persuasion. The problem seems to be in the president’s approach to the problem and the inappropriate use of the “moon shot” approach, as suggested in a Thursday story in Ars Technica. Others suggest that Obamacare constitutes an obstacle to finding and implementing effective treatments for cancer.
Jonathan M. Gitlin, who used to work in the policy office at the National Institutes for Health and, before that, was a research scientist, took a dim view of the president’s grandiose approach.
“Mr. President and Mr. Vice President: science doesn’t need another moonshot, and it really doesn’t need another vaguely thought-out initiative dropped on it during a State of the Union address. What it needs is much more important—and probably much more difficult politically, because those needs are much less flashy. What science needs is stable, sustainable budget growth. Take the NIH budget and promise to grow it at a percent or two above inflation for a number of years. The number 10 would be good.”
The problem was that sudden and massive infusions of cash, which happened when the budget for the NIH was doubled during the Clinton and Bush years, often get wasted. These periods of boom are inevitably followed by busts when the grant money dries up, scientists are laid off, and labs are shut down. Slower but predictable increases in funding, plus keeping politicians away so that the researchers can do their jobs, would be a better albeit less sexy approach.
Dr. Marc Siegel, who provides medical commentary for Fox News, has an interesting idea. If we want to cure cancer, we need to get rid of Obamacare.
“So what’s the catch? Well, President Obama is the wrong commander-in-chief for the war on cancer. His signature health care program, ObamaCare, may be responsible for signing up more than 16 million people who were previously uninsured, but the kind of health insurance they’re getting will hardly pay for the new treatments.
“ObamaCare is one-size-fits-all; it usually pairs a high deductible (typically more than $5,000 per year) with low-quality care in a narrow network that excludes most top doctors, hospitals and drugs.
“Plus, with all its regulations, taxes and penalties ($500 billion in new taxes in the first 10 years), ObamaCare stifles the very innovation necessary for drug companies to develop new cures. Research and development is currently growing much faster in Asia, India and Europe than in the United States.
“And evolving, fast-growing cancer doesn’t suit one-size-fits-all treatments.
“Exciting new cancer drugs will lead to more personalized care, meaning that the vaccine or directed antibody may respond to the proteins of your tumor but not someone else’s. Expensive drugs that only work well for small numbers of people are difficult to justify to insurance companies that participate in ObamaCare, especially when these treatments are very expensive.
“And targeted therapies routinely cost over $100,000 a year per patient. Well worth it if it’s your life on the line, but ObamaCare isn’t designed to respond to your personalized medical needs.”
The irony is that a lot of new treatments, which use the body’s immune system, is allowing cancer patients to live far longer than they were previously able to. More therapies are in the pipeline that will at the very least make cancer a manageable, chronic disease, like diabetes, and not, as is so often the case, a death sentence.
Dr. Siegel suggests that a better approach would be to get rid of Obamacare and sweep away a lot of the rules and regulations that inhibit new drugs and other therapies from coming to a clinical setting. If the president is really serious about wanting to “cure cancer” he may have to bite the bullet and accept the fact that he has to abrogate his signature domestic policy achievement to do it.