Washington, D.C.,—Congress approved an FY 2021 funding deal that includes an increase for biomedical research funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and cancer research at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). In a tough budget environment, the spending bill includes a $1.25 billion increase for NIH, including a nearly $120 million increase for the NCI. The pandemic stalled clinical trials that need robust and sustained funding to restart and advance their potentially lifesaving work, therefore, additional increases in the next Congress will be more critical than ever.
Congress did prioritize efforts to make cancer care more affordable. By passing the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act, unexpected out-of-pocket costs Medicare beneficiaries can face after a colonoscopy if a polyp is found and removed will be phased out. Individuals on private health plans enjoy full coverage of colorectal cancer screenings as a result of the Affordable Care Act, but a loophole in Medicare can result in some seniors waking up to an unexpected bill amounting to hundreds of dollars. Research shows any cost sharing can be a significant barrier to accessing cancer screenings. Additionally, Congress passed the No Surprises Act to prohibit surprise medical billing, a significant step in the right direction to reduce surprise out-of-pocket costs for patients. These costs can often result in forced changes to treatment due to inability to pay and, thus, poorer health outcomes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will get $125 million increase which includes $5.8 million increase for cancer control programs. The Office on Smoking and Health (OSH) will see a $7.5 million funding increase for its work reducing tobacco use.
The bill has numerous coronavirus-related relief provisions, including extending a stipulation to allow charitable donations of up to $600 for a couple and $300 for an individual to be deducted from 2021 taxes under the universal charitable deduction. The deductions will encourage those who can donate to do so during a time when charities which have long served communities have seen increased demand but received fewer contributions amidst the pandemic-driven economic downturn. It also includes an extension of the employee retention tax credit to help keep workers employed.
A statement from Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) follows:
“Rarely has the importance of medical research been so apparent as it is in the midst of this ongoing pandemic and increasing federal funding for NIH and NCI in this budget is a first step toward what is needed to promote further discovery. Critical clinical trials that could yield new means of preventing, diagnosing and treating serious health conditions, including cancer, rely on consistent, substantial funding increases. We are thankful that in a tough budget environment, funding for the NIH and NCI keeps up with medical inflation. However, looking ahead we cannot lose ground and must continue to provide robust, sustained funding increases for biomedical research to continue the progress we have seen in cancer and other diseases.
“Unfortunately, this budget agreement does not include any emergency funding to address cancer research and clinical trials impacted by COVID-19. Congress must work quickly in the new year to provide at least $15.5 billion in emergency funding for the NIH for continued COVID-19 related research as well as to restart research and clinical trials impacted by the pandemic. We look forward to working with Congress and the new Administration on this priority.
“For the trials that will be funded, we are happy to see Medicaid will cover patients’ associated routine health care costs through the inclusion of the Clinical Treatment Act. Every cancer patient who wants to participate in a trial should be able to do so without incurring unjust costs regardless of what kind of insurance they have. This change will provide Medicaid patients greater access to clinical trials.
“For the past decade, ACS CAN has been working with federal lawmakers to close the loophole in Medicare that allows older Americans to be charged cost sharing for colorectal cancer screenings that private insurance covers in full. We know colorectal cancer can be prevented with regular screenings and that it is more treatable when found early. Yet many individuals on Medicare are forced to forego this procedure due to the fear of an unexpected cost if a polyp is found and removed during the screening. Thanks to the Congress' action today to phase out cost sharing for colorectal cancer screenings in Medicare, we can further reduce suffering and death from this preventable disease. We look forward to this bill being signed into law quickly.
“Protecting funding for cancer screening programs for 2021 is also critical as need for these programs will increase. The pandemic has resulted in large numbers of Americans delaying or forgoing essential cancer screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies, because they’re afraid of contracting the virus, they were unable to get screened due to pandemic-related medical closures or they’ve lost their employer sponsored health coverage as a result of pandemic-induced layoffs. These missed screenings in 2020 will lead to increased demand for CDC cancer prevention and detection programs in 2021. These programs, which help ensure more low-income, uninsured people have access to timely cancer screenings, will benefit from the $5.8 million boost in overall cancer control funding. Early detection can be the difference between life and death in a cancer diagnosis, so ensuring more individuals have access to these screenings is crucial to moving us closer to a world with less cancer. Additionally, the $7.5 million increase for OSH will help efforts aimed at preventing kids from becoming addicted to tobacco and helping adults to quit.
Access to Care
“According to ACS CAN research, nearly a quarter of all cancer patients and survivors have experienced a surprise medical bill as a result of inadvertently getting care from an out-of-network provider. These bills are often very expensive and, understandably, often negatively affect patients’ behavior and might make it hard for them to pay for the rest of their care.
“We commend Congress for including a prohibition on these surprise medical bills in the budget deal. This legislation will provide long-needed peace of mind to patients during this especially difficult time.
“Additionally, extending the payroll tax credit for paid sick and family leave along with reauthorizing funding for federally qualified health centers, which serve some of the most at-risk populations, will help cancer patients stay healthy or get healthy during this difficult time.”
“The pandemic’s economic effect has hit nonprofits hard; therefore, extending the universal charitable tax deduction will provide additional incentive for those who are able to give to do so especially at a time when charities are struggling with surging demand and declining donations due to the pandemic-related economic downturn. The extension of the employee retention tax credit will help such charities keep workers employed, however more relief for large and mid-sized nonprofits will continue to be necessary in the coming year until the economy has significantly recovered.”
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