Blair Horner: End of year federal budget cuts could mean more cancer

Sep 17, 2012

The White House today released a report on the impact of mandated budget cuts scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2013.  The cuts are mandated under the Budget Control Act of 2011, which arose for the debate over the debt ceiling last year. 

The Budget Control Act required an automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts if the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (also known as the “Super Committee”) failed to agree on budget cuts on its own – which it failed to do.

The automatic budget cuts, known as “sequestration,” are to go into effect next year.  These cuts will total $1.2 trillion over the next decade, with $110 billion in across-the-board cuts next year.

The 394 page report issued by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget last week was the Administration’s effort to make sure that the Congress and the public has a detailed understanding of what will happen to federal programs unless changes are made.  The White House report was mandated by Congress to spell out how individual programs will be cut if the $110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts in FY’13 go forward.

OMB report outlines cuts of up to 10% in 1,200 federal government programs. Overall, the sequestration process requires $55 billion in domestic cuts and $55 billion in defense cuts for FY’13.  These cuts translate into a defense spending cut of 9.4%, non-defense spending 8.2%, most entitlement programs 7.6% and Medicare providers 2%.

Combined with the end-of-year expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, the sequestration plays a big part of the looming “fiscal cliff” that faces lawmakers after the election.

While the politics of this issue are interesting, the consequences of the sequestration process going into effect can be dire.

Take the impact on cancer programs, for example.

This OMB report confirms what the public health community has long known – that mandatory budget cuts to domestic programs set to take effect Jan. 1 would deprive medical research and disease prevention programs of critical federal dollars needed to fight life-threatening diseases such as cancer.

·         The National Institutes of Health, which spends more than 80 percent of its research dollars in communities nationwide, is facing an estimated $2.5 billion cut in 2013. Cancer research could be cut by $400 million or more.  Unless Congress acts, research labs could be forced to lay off staff, scale back research, and terminate clinical trials.  The promise of recent discoveries might never become a reality for people with cancer and their families.

·         Women’s access to breast and cervical cancer screening would also be hindered if mandatory budget cuts take effect. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would take an 8.2 percent cut on Jan. 1.  If the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program took a comparable cut, nearly 50,000 fewer low-income, uninsured and underinsured women would be screened for cancer next year.

To slash funding of cancer research programs may well mean that new therapies will not be discovered, which could mean more cancer in our futures.

Devastating cancer screening programs will mean that some women without health insurance won’t get screened.  For some of them, it will likely mean that they will get their cancer diagnosis at a later and more deadly phase.

Automatic end of year cuts through sequestration will likely lead to more cancer in the United States.  Congress can’t let that happen.  When you see candidates for Congress, ask them what they are doing about sequestration and how they will make sure that cancer programs are protected, not devastated.

Blair Horner is the Vice President for Advocacy for the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division.  His commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of the American Cancer Society.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.