On the Money

Cancer treatments another possible casualty of Obamacare repeal: Expert

Beth Corsentino
Key Points
  • Branding of cancer patients as having pre-existing conditions would have "devastating" effect on ability to get insurance in a post-Obamacare U.S., says researcher.
  • Despite Republican-controlled D.C.'s intent to slash spending, Glimcher calls for an increase in federal cancer-research spending.
Cancer innovations

With the fate of the Affordable Care Act still in limbo, so is the future of cancer patients currently receiving incredibly expensive but potentially life-saving treatments.

Dr. Laurie Glimcher, CEO of the Dana-Farber Institute in Boston, told CNBC's "On The Money" that, to successfully fight cancer, patients need chronic treatment. Changes to ACA could impact access to those treatments.

"Branding of those patients as having pre-existing conditions would be devastating in terms of their obtaining health care insurance, if the plans were to change," said Glimcher.

Branding of those patients as having pre-existing conditions would be devastating in terms of their obtaining health care insurance, if the plans were to change.
Dr. Laurie Glimcher
CEO of the Dana-Farber Institute

Currently, under ACA, health insurance companies can't refuse to cover you or charge you more because you have a health problem. The Institute also is against any limits or caps on coverage since some patients may require years of treatment.

Founded 70 years ago, the Dana-Farber Institute serves adults and children with cancer while developing cures through research. Glimcher says huge progress has been in made in innovative treatments for many cancers, including immunotherapy, which is a treatment that uses certain parts of a person's immune system to fight diseases. Glimcher says it's just the tip of the iceberg, adding "we just need to do a lot more research to try to figure out why one patient with one cancer responds while another patient with a different cancer doesn't respond."

Glimcher recently helped develop the Moonshot Initiative targeting cures for cancer with former Vice-President Joe Biden. She says federal funds are still coming in for that program, as well as for precision medicine.

Dan Kitwood | Getty Images

The National Institutes of Health will see a budget increase of $1.1 billion in 2018 but Glimcher doesn't think that's enough. "Really though, if we wanted to have kept pace with inflation over the last decade, the NIH budget would be closer to the mid-$40s [billion] then it is to [the] current at $34 to $35 billion."

Meanwhile, the prices of new cancer drugs have skyrocketed over the past few decades. A study done by the American Society of Clinical Oncologists found the monthly median cost for cancer drugs in the U.S is close to $8,700, compared to $2,600 in the U.K. and $3,200 in China.

Glimcher says it is important to remember that, while prices are high, they are very complicated drugs that are hard to produce. Dana-Farber bears the cost of treatment in part for Medicare patients and for Medicaid patients. "At Dana-Farber, our mission is to take care of every patient who comes across our door asking for help with cancer," said Glimcher.

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