CANCER HOSPITALS ORGANIZE
AS MEGA-EARNINGS DECLINE
From The Cancer Chronicles #26
© Feb. 1996 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.
To hear them tell it, the hospital business has fallen on hard times. A double whammy of pressure for lower fees from Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) and a decline in government payments are hitting the "elite" hospitals very hard (New York Times, 2/13/95).
And particularly hard hit are those hospitals and research centers that grew up during the heady heyday of the war on cancer. Public support for the war is eroding, not just because of the economy, but because of the obvious lack of progress.
Signs of this decline are everywhere. Memorial Sloan-Kettering has announced layoffs and has been reduced to advertising, a la the Cancer Treatment Centers of America! Meanwhile, the New York State division of the American Cancer Society is closing 35 offices in the upper part of the state to cut costs (Chronicle of Philanthropy 12/13/94). ACS has also announced that henceforth it will be competing for government (NCI) grants, a policy it avoided in the past. This will lessen its influence in two ways--by making it the competitor of its own grant recipients, and also beholden to the bureaucrats at the NCI.
What's a poor cancer center to do? On January 25, an organization called the National Coalition for Cancer Research announced a "Research Cures Cancer" public education campaign, with a gala kickoff on Capitol Hill. This was supposed to focus public awareness about the alleged "need for increased funding for cancer research to prevent and cure cancer." Increased funding!
Key elements of the campaign will be six thirty-second public service announcements that provide an 800 number to find out more "about progress in the effort to prevent and cure cancer" and "highlight compelling cancer statistics." How about 1.2 million new cases a year--there¹s a compelling statistic, for starters.
There will be airport dioramas to repeatedly drive home the message of the PSAs, as well as brochures and "action steps" to help the coalition promote the value and benefits of cancer research. Something to look forward to on our next visit to the airport!
The NCCR claims to represent "tens of thousand of cancer survivors and their families" including 40,000 children with cancer. More to the point, it also represents 65,000 cancer researchers and 82 cancer centers‹who will definitely suffer if Congress gets the idea that the war on cancer is going nowhere after almost 25 years.
Major sponsors of this humanitarian effort include Glaxo, Inc., Eastman Kodak, Pharmacia Adria and Zeneca --which make such anticancer drugs as Adriamycin and tamoxifen, as well as biotech Amgen, maker of Neupogen, Immunex, Sterling Winthrop, etc.
Participating cancer centers include Duke, Fox Chase, and Seattle's Fred Hutchison. And representing the "patients" is none other than Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation, the creation of erstwhile quackbuster, Washington attorney Grace Powers Monaco.
In a related development, thirteen of the major US cancer centers announced that they had formed an alliance to "take a market-driven approach to developing cost-efficient cancer treatments" (1/31/95 ).
The 13 powerhouses include Memorial Sloan Kettering, John Hopkins, the University of Michigan, Stanford University Medical Center, Los Angeles¹ City of Hope National Medical Center, and Fred Hutchinson.
"These centers have taken a market-driven approach to showing the cost benefits of cutting edge research," said a Stanford official, echoing shibboleths that should play well in Washington these days.
"We want to show insurers that this treatment is in the best interest of cancer patients."
Cancer centers are already clashing with insurance companies. Many insurers tried not to pay for highly experimental and dangerous cancer treatment, such as bone marrow transplantation (BMT), claiming quite accurately that the results did not justify the extravagant expenses. (On 1/13/95, the Times coincidentally carried the story of a woman who died after having BMT for a kind of leukemia. The remaining portion of bills totalled an incredible $600,000, although the Times mentioned this without comment--as if it were an everyday item.)
"We wanted to insure that policy makers didn't lose sight of what makes these centers special," said the Stanford spokesperson. "We wanted to make sure there continues to be an advocacy for cutting edge research in the cancer field and also make sure those treatments get to the patients as quickly as possible."
Network members are each kicking in $135,000 a year for the next four
years to help pay for the effort. The network is supposed to allow members
to exchange research data and technology. It will also create "treatment
standards for a specific form of cancer that will be followed at all 13
hospitals." But if NCI hasn't been able to whip these doctors into line
before now, do you think an alliance without teeth will have more success?
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