Sequester snubs cancer patients yet again: will research ever take top priority?

by Olivia Paladino
In an attempt to reduce the federal deficit, Congress imposed steep budget cuts on government spending. Among other areas, the sequester targeted medical care- specifically organizations involved to the fight against cancer, including the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Medicare.
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  It is the government’s job to ensure the safety and liberty of its citizens. With this sequester, however, it has failed us. These cuts have put cancer research, development and treatment on the back burner and will negatively impact the way patients receive care.
“These cuts are disrespectful toward cancer patients,” said junior Nicole Johnson. “It makes it seem as if we do not care at all about their sickness or the stress that comes along with it.”
The NIH’s budget was cut by 5.1 percent, $1.6 billion,  as a result of sequestration according to The American Cancer Society. This could mean 1,308 fewer research grants and 20,500 jobs lost, leading to fewer advancements and slower progress in this field.
“The research is important in hopefully finding a cure to one type of cancer or another; there are so many different kinds,” said Barbara Illes, a Scotch Plains resident currently battling appendiceal cancer.
The FDA budget has also been reduced by the sequester, sustaining $206 million in losses, according to The Washington Post. This organization is responsible for the approval of experimental oncology drugs that could potentially improve patient quality of life or even eradicate the disease altogether. However, in a study conducted by Friends of Cancer Research, if the FDA budget cuts cause job lay-offs, the approval time for these drugs will be greatly extended.
“Every decision they make in government is going to affect somebody, it is not easy to prioritize,” said Scotch Plains resident Michael Blacker, who lost his wife to colon cancer in 2012. “But in my perception, cancer research has been slighted for years.”
The idea of the sequester is especially frightening to people who cannot afford treatment without financial aid. According to The Washington Post, Medicare, which provides health insurance to the elderly, has sustained tremendous losses, an estimated $9.9 billion, about two percent, as a result of these budget cuts; and consequently, private cancer centers have begun rejecting Medicare patients as they are no longer fully reimbursed for the chemotherapy drugs. These patients are forced to seek treatment elsewhere, at hospitals that still have the resources to treat them.
“These budget cuts are scary because you see what the cost of treatment is and you wonder: are you going to be able to afford this?” said Illes. “You’re on a fixed income, and you don’t know how it is going to affect you.”
As the budget for cancer research and treatment continues to shrink, the governmental concern for patients’ lives seems to be following a similar trend.
“The polarization of the parties in Washington has gone so far that it affects everyone and every aspect of our daily lives,” said Blacker. “It all goes back to their inability to compromise.”
And yet, cancer patients are forced to bear the brunt of this Congressional miscommunication.
“If she were still here, I think my wife would be very upset about these cuts,” said Blacker. “Her mother had also passed away from cancer, and she had known the disease well first hand for many years.”