American Cancer Society Should Stay Out of Health Care Politics

ACS logoThe American Cancer Society’s (ACS) endorsement of the House-passed health care bill is a betrayal of the trust of millions of Americans who have made the group one of the nation’s most respected and broadly based charities.

The ACS endorsement of controversial legislation opposed by a majority of Americans is fraught with risk. It might make highly-paid ACS leaders feel important to be charmed by Barack Obama, but it is unfair to the corps of volunteers who organize and take part in fundraising drives like “Relay for Life” and “Making Strides for Breast Cancer.” No doubt, a significant portion of ACS supporters vociferously oppose Obama’s health plan. That is why ACS should have stayed out of it.

The House vote was about more than health care. Both Obama and his foes have made the issue of test of his political fortunes, impacting a host of other issues. All Republicans but one voted against the measure. This partisan tinge to the debate is another reason why the ACS endorsement is inappropriate.

According to its 2007 tax return, the most recent available, ACS raised almost $400 million in that year, the vast majority of it coming from the public. The endorsement was actually made by something called the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), described as “the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society.” Dr. John R. Seffrin serves as CEO of both ACS and ACS CAN.

The November 5 press release announcing the endorsement included this disclaimer:

ACS CAN has not weighed in on the financing of any health care reform proposal except to support an increase in the federal tobacco tax as a way to help pay for reform and save lives. Therefore, ACS CAN takes no position on the revenue provisions of the House bill.

Of course, ACS CAN did take a position on the revenue provisions of the bill, because it specifically endorsed the bill.  Seffrin can’t have it both ways.

The revenue provisions contain one of the largest tax increases in history and are the basis of a massive redistributionist scheme that seeks policy objectives that go far beyond health care. The disclaimer is an implicit admission that ACS should not be involved in policy debates unrelated to cancer. To attempt to separate the bills massive tax increases (and gutting of Medicare) from its new mandates and expansion of coverage is a folly. You cannot have one without the other.

Seffrin’s endorsement made the bill sound just perfect:

This legislation represents an exceptional opportunity to advance our mission of reducing suffering and death related to cancer. We have the potential to transform our nation’s health care system in a fundamental way that begins the process of making adequate and affordable health care accessible to all Americans.

Seffrin made no effort to address the legitimate concerns shared by millions of Americans, including his own supporters, about access to care in a system dominated by the government.

Whether or not it is called rationing, the government will decide who gets what treatment at the same time it seeks to control costs. How can this possibly bode well for cancer patients, whose treatments can be so expensive? Will the elderly be deemed  “too old” to receive treatment past a certain age? Will children with rare cancers be deemed “too expensive” to treat in favor of basic care for others?

The ACS CAN statement unintentionally illustrates why it is on such thin ice:

A recent survey by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health found that the American Cancer Society is the most trusted among all the interest groups involved in the health care reform debate. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed said they trust the Society to recommend the right thing for the country when it comes to health care reform.

It takes years to build the kind of trust that the ACS enjoys. It takes far less time to betray that trust. People who give money for finding a cure for cancer should not end up subsidizing a political cause that they oppose.

It also takes a lot of dedicated people to build an organization like ACS. According to ACS’s 2007 tax return, Seffrin made over a million in salary and benefits. Another benefit is getting to hob-nob with the President of the United States. The question is just whose interests he represents. It’s a good question next time your neighbor knocks on your door asking for a few bucks to help “fight cancer.”


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