Association of American Cancer Institutes
September 30, 2013
As Prepared for Delivery
There is no better way to start a Monday morning, than being introduced by a fellow-Kansan. One of the best decisions I ever made in the Governor’s office was to recruit Dr. Roy Jensen home to Kansas, where he does such important, life-affirming work at the University of Kansas Cancer Center.
By applause, how many of you are visiting Washington from out-of-town? Let me take this opportunity to welcome you to the nation’s capital. You picked an interesting time to be here, to say the least.
I’d be willing to bet that since you’ve arrived, you’ve been hearing non-stop chatter about the same question – whether you’re on the Metro or in line at Starbucks. And that question is: “Will the government shutdown?”
The short answer is “I don’t know.” What I can tell you from a health care prospective is that regardless of what happens on Capitol Hill, we’re going to continue moving forward with implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Today is also a big day because we’re less than 24 hours away from open enrollment in the new Health Insurance Marketplace – which I’ll share a few thoughts about in a moment.
So this is a very busy and important time. But as busy as things are, I wanted to make sure that I made the time to come and see you – and that’s because of who you are and the work that you do.
I’m sure that no one in this room needs to be reminded that cancer is expected to claim the lives of more than 580,000 people in this country in 2013: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters.
The progress that you and your colleagues are making is progress that means everything to the families of those who are afflicted with this disease.
And we know that the progress you are making is significant and tangible. This past spring, the American Association for Cancer Research reported on just how significant this progress is, when it comes to scientific discoveries fueled by federal investments. These discoveries have led to decreases in the incidence of more than 200 types of cancer. And they are helping many patients live longer and better lives.
A shining example is the dramatic improvements you’re achieving in fighting childhood cancer.
In the seventies, fewer than 60% of children with a cancer diagnosis survived five or more years. Today, 80% survive five or more years.
And because of the advances you and your colleagues have made, there are now more than 300,000 long-term childhood cancer survivors living in the United States.
We could not be achieving these sorts of results without investing in research – in particular the research collaboration involving the Children’s Oncology Group, which is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute.
Many of you are also involved in the advances we’re making in personalized – or precision – medicine – this emerging scientific frontier which will offer greater effectiveness while minimizing the safety risks to patients.
These targeted therapies hold the promise of being more selective for cancer cells than normal cells – reducing side effects and improving patients’ quality of life.
The FDA will continue to exercise regulatory flexibility for these types of treatments. Let me give you an example. Through the FDA’s new Breakthrough Therapy designation, we are expediting new drug development and review. This can be a significant difference-maker for patients who currently have unmet needs.
I want you to know that I understand – and President Obama understands – that progress, innovation, and discovery do not come free. And they will not just happen on their own. They take federal investment.
With all the debate about a possible government shutdown – and with the debate about the debt ceiling looming – there is a lot of talk in Washington these days about spending and costs.
With all the talk about how much federal investments cost, we sometimes lose sight of the coda to this: neglecting to invest also has cost.
When, as a country, we neglect to invest in NIH, for example, we pay for this neglect in the form of the 640 fewer competitive research grants we were able to issue last year – and in the hundreds more projects we will be unable to advance in the year ahead.
We pay in terms of the 750 fewer patients that we were able to offer clinical trials to last year, because of sequester-driven budget cuts.
And we pay in the untold numbers of Americans who have been turned away at NIH-supported clinical research centers across the country.
If we neglect to restore our investments, we will lose $19 billion in NIH research dollars over the next decade. $19 billion. And that’s just a dollar amount. Think of what we could be missing out on – all the discoveries, cures, and advances that might never happen if we are not willing to find a way to pay for them.
With all this funding drying up, you do not have to be a high level scientific researcher to figure out why more than half the nation’s federally-funded research scientists have either laid-off staff or say they intend to do so.
You may have seen last week’s article in the Washington Post which talked about a George Mason University researcher who published a groundbreaking study on HIV. He’s had to cut his staff from 14 paid employees to one post-doctoral candidate.
According to a study by the American Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, nearly 1 in 5 scientists, say they have thought about picking up and moving oversees so they can have a better chance at getting funding.
This not only has repercussions for public health – it will ultimately have an effect on our global economic competitiveness.
Even before the sequester, countries like India, China, South Korea, Brazil, and Japan were increasing their investments in research at the very same time we in this country were slashing ours.
I wish I had a crystal ball and could tell you that I know when or if the sequester will end. The truth of that matter is that I do not know. What I can tell you is that you have a friend in President Obama. He wants to end this sequester. And I know you do too.
But as long some in Congress continue to hold these investments hostage, we’re going to continue to pay in missed opportunity, lost potential and discoveries which could-have-been.
Before I wrap up, I wanted to say a brief word about the Affordable Care Act, because, as I mentioned earlier, tomorrow begins a very important part of the implementation timeline.
85% of Americans currently have health coverage. As the President reiterated last week, if you’re one of these 85% than you don’t have to do anything.
What the Affordable Care Act does for you is make your coverage better.
From the perspective of those who have coverage – and those who are going to be able to get new coverage starting January 1st -- the law does a number of things that strengthen our ability to fight cancer and help current and future patients.
71 million Americans with private health insurance, for example, now have the legal right to preventive services with no copays or other out-of-pocket fees. This includes things like mammograms and other cancer screenings.
It is now against the law to rescind someone’s coverage simply because they are diagnosed with cancer.
It is now against the law to deny coverage to a cancer patient because they make a mistake on their application.
It is now against the law for an insurance company to deny someone chemotherapy, radiation, or another treatment because they have reached lifetime limit on their benefits. And starting next year, annual caps on coverage will be a thing of the past.
And starting next year it will be illegal for an insurance company to deny anyone coverage because they have cancer or any other preexisting condition. Starting January 1st, those days are over.
The Health Insurance Marketplace is an opportunity for the 15% of Americans who do not have insurance, and for people who are buying their own coverage and are unhappy with it, to obtain quality coverage.
It is a new, simpler way to purchase health insurance - all in one place. You can go online to find and compare options, see if you qualify for lower costs, and select from brand name plans that fits your needs and budget.
And, you will no longer need to worry about finding out after the fact that the coverage you buy doesn’t actually cover anything. By law, all these plans will have to cover benefits like mammograms and other cancer screenings, hospital stays, and prescription drugs.
For millions of Americans, these new options are going to make health insurance work within their budget.
And January 1st will be a new day, when the new coverage starts to kick in.
Once again thank you all very much for all that you are doing. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to join you here this morning.