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Winter 2003/2004 Volume 5, Issue 9:
Advocacy Update: Congress Adjourns
By Greg Brozeit
Thanks to the persistent work of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), the conferees to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill approved $500,000 to help support the IMF’s Bank On A Cure program.
02.24.04





Funding to help support the IMF Bank On A Cure® (BOAC) program and implement the Geraldine Ferraro Blood Cancer Education Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted the end of the congressional session for the myeloma and cancer communities.

Greg Brozeit with Former President George Bush and Barbara Bush

Thanks to the persistent work of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), the conferees to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill approved $500,000 to help support the IMF’s Bank On A Cure program. Bank On A Cure will create a comprehensive DNA bank to help researchers identify genetic markers to assist in diagnosis, facilitate prognosis, and determine drug efficacy not just for myeloma patients, but for all who are affected by cancer.

Susie Novis and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison

A recipient of the IMF Ribbon of Hope Award in 2002, Sen. Hutchison stated, “I have seen firsthand the devastation of multiple myeloma. We need every tool available to advance the diagnosis and treatment of this and other cancers. This DNA bank is just one of many examples of the ingenuity being employed in the fight against cancer, and I’m proud to stand side-by-side with the International Myeloma Foundation in this effort.”

Sen. Hutchison also championed funding of $5 million for the CDC Ferraro education program. The funds will be used to establish nationwide education programs for patients and doctors for myeloma, leukemia, and lymphoma. Details of the program will be made public in the coming year.

The funding will not be finalized until the Senate returns to vote on the bill in January 2004. The House approved the bill containing these provisions on December 8, 2003.

Mixed Messages on Research and Cancer Care

In addition to Hutchison-supported issues, congressional conferees to the fiscal year 2004 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill agreed to a $1 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The 3.7% increase—which will bring the total NIH funding to slightly less than $28.3 billion—is significantly less than the 8-10% requested by the medical research advocacy community.

Funding for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) was set at $4.77 billion, an increase of $170 million or 3.5% over last year’s funding level. Currently, NCI funds approximately 28% of its approved grants. That percentage will likely translate into a decrease in overall research activity.

Medicare reform may also hold some unforeseen surprises for myeloma and cancer patients. The legislation President Bush signed into law on December 8, 2003 will limit Medicare reimbursement for drugs prescribed by oncologists by as much as $1 billion per year beginning on January 1, 2004.

The leadership of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), commenting on the proposed change that will take as much as $16 billon out of the oncology drug reimbursement system over the next ten years, wrote, “The effect of these very substantial changes in payment will be significant for cancer care in communities across the country. Among other things, we are anxious that these changes will have significant unintended consequences for cancer clinical trials upon which we all depend for progress against disease for future generations.”

Another big issue for the cancer community—coverage for oral cancer drugs—will be included in the prescription drug benefit beginning in January 1, 2006. Until then, some patients will be allowed to participate in a small, limited access pilot program through December 31, 2005. It is currently unclear how and if off-label drugs such as thalidomide will be covered after January 1, 2006.


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