Former Cancer Moonshot Head Blasts GOP Health Bill

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By Jeannie Baumann

The former head of the federal cancer moonshot task force called the Senate Republican plan to replace Obamacare a “death sentence for people with cancer who don’t have insurance.”

“Before we get to the war on cancer, we have got to end the war on the poor,” Greg Simon, who was the executive director of the 2016 White House task force charged with developing the strategy for doubling the rate of cancer treatments and prevention therapies. “What we’re reading today on the health bill is a war on the poor.”

Simon delivered the keynote address for the umbrella group Cancer Support Community almost exactly one year after the cancer moonshot 2016 summit. The event, Cancer Moonshot: One Year Later, occurred one day after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report that estimated the number of uninsured Americans would increase by 22 million under the Senate Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act ( H.B. 1628).

“When you cut 22 million people out of their insurance because they are on the edge of society, and they are on Medicaid, that is a war on the poor,” Simon said. “That is a death sentence for people with cancer if they don’t have insurance.

Simon, who will continue work similar to the cancer moonshot as president of the new Biden Cancer Initiative, said patients without insurance won’t be able to visit a doctor, leading to deaths that could have been prevented.

“They don’t go to the doctor. Their breast cancer that’s curable kills them. Their prostate cancer that’s curable kills them. The melanoma that’s findable kills them,” Simon said.

Preventable Deaths

“So before we get to cancer, let’s make sure we get to caring about everybody—not just the people with good jobs, and government jobs. and military jobs whose insurance is a sure thing,” Simon said. “Because if we don’t do that, then what are we doing?”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a June 26 floor statement the bill would lower costs and “preserve access to care for patients with preexisting conditions, strengthen Medicaid, and allow children to remain on their parents’ insurance through the age of 26.” But Senate leaders on June 27 put off a vote on the bill until after the July 4 recess amid growing opposition from GOP members to the plan.

Simon’s comments demonstrate the impact of the health-care reform discussion as it touches an otherwise bipartisan effort to spur cancer research.

Moonshot ‘Alive and Well’

At the one-year moonshot event, both Simon and the Doug Lowy, the nation’s cancer research chief, said the cancer initiative was “alive and well.”

“People took a government program and, in their living room, turned it into a movement,” Simon said.

“The moonshot is alive in the government and out of the government. It’s alive with you. It’s alive with the Biden Cancer Initiative, which we’re going to work as hard as we can to make a difference the way we think we made a difference in the moonshot,” he said.

In his keynote, Simon said the moonshot initiative sparked new collaborations, faster ways of funding promising new research, and ways to foster more data sharing and improve research processes.

Elizabeth Jaffee, a Johns Hopkins University oncologist who was co-chairwoman of the cancer moonshot’s blue ribbon panel that delivered recommendations on how to achieve the goals of the initiative, said, “I really do believe we are in a new age of cancer treatments, and hopefully prevention.”

Referring to President Richard Nixon’s war on cancer, Simon said, “we can finish what we started in 1971.”

“Instead of being soldiers in the war on cancer, we have been students majoring in cancer,” he said. “Now is the time to hit the real work.”

Ties to DoD, VA, Energy

Lowy, acting director of the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, said the moonshot allowed the NCI to establish much closer ties to the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and Veterans Administration.

The NCI is putting forward more than 15 funding announcements, and investigators throughout the U.S. are currently preparing applications, he said.

“We will be making a lot of funding decisions by the end of the fiscal year,” Lowy said, referring to the 2017 fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. “We have implementation teams that are carrying forward other research programs which will be done in 2018.”

The moonshot directed federal agencies to think about changes that can have a real impact on patient care. Simon said the mission of the moonshot encouraged federal agency officials to “look up from their desks” and to think beyond the incremental changes that are available within the confines of the current budget figures.

“Can we really do the moonshot program in an atmosphere that doesn’t take nine to 12 months to put out a RFP [request for proposal]?” Simon asked. “There’s simply no excuse in this changing time not to change the way we do business, especially in cancer where we can make a difference by the way we do things.”

‘Amazing Enthusiasm’

The moonshot has created “amazing enthusiasm” on an international level, Lowy said. Any time then-Vice President Joe Biden engaged in diplomacy work, Lowy said, the head of that state would bring up cancer-related issues.

The NCI signed a number of memoranda of understanding with foreign institutions to study cancer proteomics—proteins encoded by genomes—and genomics as a result of the cancer moonshot, Lowy said. But he said the outcome of those agreements was unclear because there was no financial commitment and no guarantee what would happen with a change in White House administrations.

“I’m pleased to tell you there now is an international cancer proteo-genomics consortium that involves 11 different countries,” Lowy said. “They have self-assembled and the principles enunciated by Vice President Biden are really being followed with this consortium.”

Overall, Lowy said, “we look forward to supporting new, ongoing research for the next seven years under the rubric of the cancer moonshot, while at the same time we are going forward to do research with the regular appropriations.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies provides financial support for the cancer moonshot initiative.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Randy Kubetin at

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