We have criticized the American Cancer Society (ACS) for wading into the political fight over health care through its “advocacy affiliate,” the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN). In the clearest evidence yet that politics has replaced ACS’s core mission of fighting cancer, ACSCAN took part in a press conference this week to support “upcoming cloture votes on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” In other words, ACSCAN wants the Reid bill backed by Barack Obama.
Now comes Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), a practicing physician, with an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that details just what ObamaCare might mean for cancer victims. He writes:
Section 6301 of the Reid bill creates new comparative effectiveness research (CER) programs. CER panels have been used as rationing commissions in other countries such as the U.K., where 15,000 cancer patients die prematurely every year according to the National Cancer Intelligence Network. CER panels here could effectively dictate coverage options and ration care for plans that participate in the state insurance exchanges created by the bill.
Additionally, the Reid bill depends on the recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) in no fewer than 14 places. This task force was responsible for advising women under 50 to not undergo annual mammograms. The administration claims the task force recommendations do not carry the force of law, but the Reid bill itself contradicts them in section 2713. The bill explicitly states, on page 17, that health insurance plans “shall provide coverage for” services approved by the task force. This chilling provision represents the government stepping between doctors and patients. When the government asserts the power to provide care, it also asserts the power to deny care.
ACS got whipsawed last month when the (USPSTF) announced that it is changing its guidelines for mammography and no longer recommends routine screening for women between the ages of 40 and 49. ACS had to quickly denounce the new guidelines, and continues to urge women to get an annual mammogram starting at age 40.
Coburn put the issue in deeply personal terms:
But the most fundamental flaw of the Reid bill is best captured by the story of one my patients I’ll call Sheila. When Sheila came to me at the age of 33 with a lump in her breast, traditional tests like a mammogram under the standard of care indicated she had a cyst and nothing more. Because I knew her medical history, I wasn’t convinced. I aspirated the cyst and discovered she had a highly malignant form of breast cancer. Sheila fought a heroic battle against breast cancer and enjoyed 12 good years with her family before succumbing to the disease.
If I had been practicing under the Reid bill, the government would have likely told me I couldn’t have done the test that discovered Sheila’s cancer because it wasn’t approved under CER. Under the Reid bill, Sheila may have lived another year instead of 12, and her daughters would have missed a decade with their mom.
ACS was embarrassed again when the Senate bill included a provision that could have subjected patients with expensive treatments to sudden termination of their insurance coverage. According to a December 11 ACSCAN press release:
The Senate bill prohibits insurers from establishing ‘unreasonable’ annual limits on coverage and gives the Treasury Secretary the authority to define what that means. As cancer patients and survivors know, the definition of ‘unreasonable’ may differ dramatically depending on whether a person is healthy or in active treatment for cancer. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) has expressed concern that a vague ‘unreasonable’ standard would leave people with cancer at risk of having their care cut off when they need it most.
We are working with the White House and Congress to strengthen the Senate bill by eliminating annual limits on benefits and preserving the bill’s existing ban on lifetime limits. This improvement will ensure that people with cancer and other life-threatening diseases receive quality coverage that provides access to the care they need, when they need it.
If Obama Care becomes law, it is going to become a lot harder to counter the inevitable unintended consequences of such a sweeping law. ACS will not be able to just run over to the White House to get something fixed. And the hard reality of cost will override other considerations. As Coburn points out:
…the Reid bill (in sections 3403 and 2021) explicitly empowers Medicare to deny treatment based on cost. An Independent Medicare Advisory Board created by the bill—composed of permanent, unelected and, therefore, unaccountable members—will greatly expand the rationing practices that already occur in the program. Medicare, for example, has limited cancer patients’ access to Epogen, a costly but vital drug that stimulates red blood cell production. It has limited the use of virtual, and safer, colonoscopies due to cost concerns. And Medicare refuses medical claims at twice the rate of the largest private insurers.
We have argued that ACS’s involvement in this issue is inappropriate because it is one of the nation’s most respected and broadly based charities. Legions of volunteers organize and take part in fundraising drives like “Relay for Life” and “Making Strides for Breast Cancer.” No doubt, a significant portion, and probably a majority, of ACS supporters oppose Obama’s health plan. Here is just one of many emails we have received:
I have served as Logistics chair for my local Relay for Life for the past 6 years (not all 6 as Chair). I resigned my position last week as a result of being bombarded with E-Mails from ACS/CAN asking for my support, and that of my elected reps. for Obamacare.
I am now, and shall remain furious with ACS for this action.
I have received phone calls and E-Mails from ACS reps attempting to explain their position.
I hope you continue to investigate the truth about the origin of this ACS endorsement.
The ACSCAN press conference was held jointly with AARP, Consumers Union, and Families USA, three groups with liberal agendas and their own political baggage. This is more evidence that the ACS national leadership sees itself as part of a larger political movement, rather than as advocates for fighting cancer.
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