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Sequester Pain Hits Genome Research, Cancer Clinics

Pains wrought by the sequestration of the US federal budget have already begun to put the hurt on biomedical and genomics research communities, as had been predicted, but also it is directly affecting cancer clinics and patients, which was not expected.

It was expected, predicted, and widely announced that the 5 percent hunk that has been hewn from the National Institutes of Health budget would have a swift impact on biomedical research, and that appears to be happening now, according to the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman.

It is particularly ironic that the budget cuts are hitting human genomics research, a rapidly growing field that was largely launched with the NIH's Human Genome Project, Fineman writes.

Academic research centers that are some of the biggest drivers of genome science may lose "a big chunk" of their funding, including Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Washington University in St. Louis, he notes.

According to Fineman, Washington University, which houses the Genome Institute at Washington University, could lose about $40 million in funding over the next eight months.

"Our genomics progress will be substantially slowed," Larry Shapiro, dean of the medical school there, tells the Huffington Post.

"Shapiro and others worry about any pause in their drive to attract top scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to one of the most advanced programs of its kind in the world," Fineman writes.

According to Washington Post Wonkblog reporter Sarah Kliff, US cancer clinics have been forced to turn away thousands of Medicare patients, because the sequester has triggered a two percent slash in the amount the program provides to doctors . Although relatively small, that cut has hit private cancer clinics uniquely hard, because of the way Medicare pays oncologists for cancer drugs.

While most meds for seniors generally fall under the optional Medicare Part D, which was excluded from the sequester cut, cancer drugs must be administered by doctors and therefore are under Part B, which covers doctor visits and was subject to the cut, Kliff notes.

This 2 percent slice is magnified because it is being cut from the 6 percent reimbursement oncologists receive for storing and administering medications, she writes.

"If we treated the patients receiving the most expensive drugs, we'd be out of business in six months to a year," Jeff Vacirca, chief executive of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates in New York, tells the Washington Post.

"The drugs we're going to lose money on we're not going to administer right now."