How Sequestration May Affect Cancer Research

A Conversation with Senator Sherrod Brown

Get Permission

We must recognize that funding medical research is a win-win for the health of our citizens and for driving economic growth.

—Senator Sherrod Brown

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) began his political career in 1974 as a state representative in Ohio. He served as Ohio’s Secretary of State between 1983 and 1991, went on to serve in the U.S. Congress from 1993 to 2006, and was elected to the Senate in 2006. A supporter of biomedical and cancer research, Senator Brown sponsored the Access to Cancer Clinical Trials Act, which was folded into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as an amendment. He also successfully led a bipartisan effort to add another amendment to the Affordable Care Act that prohibits insurers from dropping health-care coverage to policyholders who participate in cancer clinical trials and from denying coverage for routine care during the clinical trial.

In 2011, ASCO recognized Senator Brown with its Public Service Award for his efforts in supporting patient protections in the Affordable Care Act, his commitment to ensuring exceptional cancer care, education, and research in Ohio’s cancer hospitals and medical schools, and his support in increasing funding for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In October, the American Association for Cancer Research also recognized Senator Brown’s advocacy for biomedical and cancer research and his contributions to public health policy with its 2012 Distinguished Public Service Award.

On January 2, 2013, a deficit-budget mechanism known as sequestration—crafted by Congress in the Budget Control Act of 2011 to force across-the-board cuts to defense and domestic spending to rein in the federal deficit—is scheduled to take effect. Unless a bipartisan resolution can be reached before the end of the year, funding for every federal program, including the NCI and the NIH, will be cut by 8%, threatening the continuation of progress made in biomedical and cancer research.

The ASCO Post asked Senator Brown about these issues.

Budget Crisis

Can Congress resolve the budget crisis before the end of the year?

We can address our nation’s fiscal problems in a manner that does not undercut important investments like cancer research. That is why I support a measured, balanced approach to spending and revenue. It is only by undertaking such an approach that we can get our fiscal house in order.

I believe that Republicans and Democrats must work together on a balanced approach that avoids sequestration, which could impose severe across-the-board cuts on every federal program. Sequestration could seriously injure our economy and have a devastating impact on a variety of federal agencies, including the NIH.

Fighting for Funding

Is it inevitable that the NIH and NCI budgets will be reduced regardless of how sequestration is resolved?

At a time when the government must tighten its belt, most federal agencies, including the NIH and the NCI, are being asked to do more with less. I will keep fighting for funding for the NIH and NCI because the work that these agencies do furthers American innovation and helps save lives. Investments like those made by the NIH and the NCI save money in the long term.

Why are you such a strong advocate for increased funding of cancer and biomedical research and improving cancer care for patients?

Virtually all of us know someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, and cancer affects not just the patient but also family, friends, and loved ones. With more than 1.6 million Americans expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year, we must continue to support advancements in the prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer.

Coverage for Patients in Clinical Trials

Participation in clinical trials by people with cancer is notoriously low—less than 5%. Do you think your amendments in the Affordable Care Act will help increase enrollment?

Clinical trials constitute one of the most effective weapons in our nation’s ongoing fight against cancer, but nearly 20% of patients with cancer who try to enroll in a clinical trial face delays in approval from their insurance companies—or worse yet, denials of coverage. Thanks to health-care reform, beginning in 2014, it will be illegal for insurers to establish illogical or unethical coverage exclusions for routine care costs when a patient enrolls in a clinical trial.

Points of Persuasion

How do you encourage Congress to recognize the importance of annual increases in NIH and NCI budgets that are at least comparable to the biomedical rate of inflation?

Thanks to the discoveries made by cancer researchers, many people with cancer are living longer.. But being a strong supporter of cancer research isn’t just about ensuring our loved ones have the best treatment and therapies available; cancer research funding also supports jobs. In fiscal year 2011, Ohio scientists and physicians attracted more than $710 million in grant funding, including $104 million dedicated to cancer research. We must recognize that funding medical research is a win-win for the health of our citizens and for driving economic growth.

Editor’s note: As this issue of The ASCO Post went to press, Congress was working on proposals to address the automatic budget cuts. For the most current developments on this and other policy issues, visit See page 59 in this issue of The ASCO Post for more on this topic. ■

Disclosure:Senator Brown reported no potential conflicts of interest.