Tweet from Donald J. Trump, dated January 9, 2019
As a cancer survivor, I have to call the president out on this one. Sure, there literally have been thousands of tweets and statements from Trump that were determined to be embellishments or down right lies. But this one hits a nerve with me. The lower cancer death rate has nothing to do with the Trump administration—in fact this administration has done little to promote cancer research, prevention and treatment.
As a former reporter, I did some fact checking on this one. First off, the cancer death rate news did not come from the Trump administration. It was announced by the American Cancer Society, whose CEO rebuked Trump for trying to take credit for lower death rates.
Secondly, the 2019 federal budget included at a 13 percent cut to the National Science Foundation and a 12 percent reduction, amounting to $4.5 billion, for the National Institute of Health, with the cancer division taking a big hit.
The American Cancer Society credited early detection of cancer, improved treatments and a dramatic decrease in smoking for the lower death rates. I would also suggest that having more Americans with health insurance is also a big factor. The uninsured rate is 40 percent below 2010 levels. Still, more than eight percent of Americans, an estimated 27.5 million have no health insurance. And Trump is doing whatever he can to prevent more Americans from signing up by attacking key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. He and his Republican followers are hoping the law will be repealed through the courts. In the meantime, he has cut 90 percent of the funds that advertised how to sign up and navigate the process of getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Republican legislators on the state level also are preventing their constituents from getting easier access to health care. Fourteen states, including Florida, have refused to allow expanded Medicaid plans to be enacted. Although the federal government will pay 90 percent of the costs for insurance for low income families, Republican governors, including former Florida governor Rick Scott, say “not in my state.”
I know firsthand how expensive it can be to fight cancer. Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. The surgeries, hospital stays, chemotherapy, radiation treatments and medications take a toll financially, as well as physically and emotionally. I was also concerned insurance companies would drop my coverage because of those high costs. The Affordable Care Act now prevents insurance companies to refuse to cover those with preexisting conditions. And the act also prevents insurance companies from price gouging by putting limits on the costs of premiums.
But cancer patients can still struggle financially. Co-pays, high deductions, drug costs all add up. Although I had a high end plan with Florida Blue insurance, I had to pay $10,000 a month for Ibrance, a cancer prevention drug. Fortunately, when I was eligible for Medicare, the copay dropped to $680 a month—still a big price to pay. I am still waiting for Trump to reduce drug prices—one of his campaign promises. So here is a bit of advice for him.
Mr. President, I know you have other worries at the moment. Your impeachment probably puts an end to your dream of being a Nobel Peace prize winner. Your re-election chances are a tossup. And your official presidential portrait at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery will likely be much smaller than the portrait of your nemesis, Barack Obama (let the size of the Nixon portrait be your guide). But you still will have a legacy that will be part of history for generations. And if you, indeed, want to be known as the president who dramatically reduced cancer death rates, I have a few suggestions.
First, embrace the Affordable Care Act and do what you can to improve it. I know, people refer to it as Obamacare and that has to sting. But really, it is a lifesaver. I am not asking for Medicare for All, I know that is a bridge too far. However, health insurance should be available and affordable for everyone.
Second, tell those Republican governors to get off their high horses and provide Medicaid to those who can’t afford anything else. For God’s sake, even Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, has expanded Medicaid. Republican efforts there to curtail it failed and hurt politically. (See the recent election of Democrat Andy Beshear, who beat the Republican incumbent for governor. By the way, Beshear’s father was the former governor who pushed for Obamacare, which he wisely renamed kynect, and it has been a godsend for the low income residents in that state.)
Speaking of McConnell, you can really help your legacy by getting him to dig into the 400 pending bills sitting on his desk and find the one about drug prices. This is right up your alley. Use all of your, and the federal government’s, power to negotiate with Big Pharma. This is your chance to prove that you are the best deal maker in the history of the United States.
Remember, Mr. President, your legacy is at stake here. If you want bragging right to being the anti-cancer president, just follow the steps above. And once you get that done, we can talk about other ways to help out that legacy. Here’s a hint: the environment and climate change.