Like most Americans, I’m worried about the fate of health care in our country. Especially important to me is how cancer research will fare in what has become a contentious debate in Washington over the Trump Administration’s 2018 budget.
So, I spent the weekend looking at some numbers.
First, I looked at the U.S. Census Bureau. According to its latest figures, there are 325,110,700 Americans living in the United States.
A sliver-thin majority are female, which according to the Census Bureau make up 50.8 percent of the population. That’s 165,156, 236 women. Men make up 49.2 percent, or 159,954,464 males.
Then I looked at the statistics for the number of Americans who will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetimes, either terminal or survivable, and the chances that somebody will have a loved one, a friend or know someone with cancer.
Every time I think about these figures, they take my breath away. Consider this: one in two men in this country – an astounding 50 percent – will likely be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, which on average is 76.4 years. That works out to be approximately 79,977,322 men who will become sick and may potentially die prematurely.
Or this: one in three women, or approximately 55,052,236 females, will face the same fate during a life expectancy of 81.2 years. That’s an equally astounding 33 percent.
According to the advocacy group Stand Up To Cancer, the chances you will know someone with cancer in your lifetime is 100 percent. And Stand Up To Cancer reports that every eight minutes, a person under 40 in the United States will be diagnosed with the disease. So it’s not just the elderly who will get sick. It’s young people in the prime of their lives, children and infants.
Just take the time and think about these numbers. More then 135 million of our fellow Americans will face a disease that has no universal cure and kills people with random cruelty no matter their age. Lung cancer is still one of the biggest killers – a fact we focus on daily at the Addario Lung Cancer Foundation.
Now think about the impact on our health care system. In addition to the current population of cancer patients, millions more will need medical treatment, full-time home care, long-term hospitalization, or hospice, among other needs. Will we have enough medical experts, oncologists, hospital beds, new drugs, new treatments and money to handle such a growing mass of patients? We know that our nation’s community hospitals not only diagnose but also treat the majority of Americans with cancer. In many cases these hospitals on the front lines of health care are underfunded, understaffed and don’t always have the most current treatments available to their patients.
Now, consider the recent federal budget that the Trump administration has submitted to Congress.
Look specifically at the various agencies with roles in researching, treating or caring for the millions of Americans with cancer. “Draconian cuts” is how former Vice President Joe Biden described it to the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting in Washington.
One of the nation’s leading agencies in the fight against cancer, the National Institutes of Health, faces a $5.8 billion cut to its budget. That’s approximately 20 percent of its funding. Cancer researchers and academic centers around the country depend on NIH grant money to keep their programs running. These programs are at the forefront of new breakthrough solutions like precision medicine and immunotherapies that are saving lives. Further, the National Institute of Cancer, which comes under the NIH umbrella, would be cut $1 billion to just under $4.5 billon.
“This would set the NIH budget, and biomedical research, back 15 years — and that’s not hyperbole,” Biden said. “This is no time to undercut progress, for God’s sake. It’s time to double down — time to be sure we can deliver on the promise of science and technology to extend and improve lives.”
Even Biden’s popular and effective Cancer Moonshot, which has enough federal money for approximately one year, faces an uncertain future, although Biden may fund it with private donations. Go down the list of proposed cuts, and you’ll see many agencies, medical centers and organizations facing financial uncertainty, like the $400 million cut in training programs for physicians, nurses and other health professionals.
Tom Frieden, the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tweeted that the new budget cuts would be “unsafe at any level of enactment. Would increase illness, death, risks to Americans, and health care costs. Devastates programs that protect Americans from cancer, diabetes, heart attacks strokes and other deadly and expensive conditions.”
Combining the near pandemic numbers of cancer cases on the horizon with the consequences of the proposed budget cuts, not only takes my breath away, it makes me fear for the future.
If such reductions are enacted, they will not only impair the federal health care bureaucracy over the next four years of this administration, but will do historic, long-term damage to our most valuable institutions established to protect human life.
What we do as committed professionals in the cancer space is not morally complicated. We think, we care, we fight and we bleed tears almost every day for people who face the uncertainties of living with cancer. On our shoulders rests the hopes of families across America who depend on the brightest minds in science.
If the statistics mentioned above prove accurate, or even close to the predictions of cancer experts, we face a crisis that could put unbearable strains on our health care system.
Advocacy groups, some lawmakers and others say it’s unlikely this budget will pass Congress without major changes. Let’s hope so. We need every penny, Mr. President. Please use a scalpel, not an axe on our health care budget.