WASHINGTON, July 23 The Community Oncology Alliance (COA), a national non-profit organization of oncologists that advocates for cancer patients and community providers of cancer care, has responded in a public statement to President Obama's press conference, saying:
"We strongly support President Obama's guiding principle that health care reform must 'build on what works and fix what is broken.' Unfortunately, that is the exact opposite of what is happening with our country's cancer care delivery system. The problem is that the Medicare payment system for cancer care is simply broken. The system has chipped away for years and our cancer care delivery system is now in crisis. Though it urgently needs to be fixed, we pray that reform is not forced through to meet a schedule, but thought through to meet the needs of covering costs to save the lives of cancer patients.
"In last night's press conference, President Obama mentioned the plight of cancer patients. As the doctors who treat 84% of cancer patients in their own communities, we feel compelled to respond with the hope that even greater focus will be put on cancer as 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women can expect to get cancer in their lifetimes.
"As of right now, 45% of all cancer patients are covered by Medicare and yet Medicare does not reimburse oncologists for the full cost of many drugs to treat patients, and does not reimburse at all for essential services including cancer treatment planning and care coordination. In a recent national survey we commissioned of over 1,000 Americans, we learned that less than half (45%) of Americans believe their health insurance plans would cover the full cost of cancer treatment, including diagnosis, doctor visits, tests and medication, and only 25% of Americans believe that a person covered under Medicare would be covered, while 64% believe Medicare would not cover the cost of treatment.
"Today most community oncologists around the country are paying out of pocket to treat their Medicare patients. Additionally, over the past few years, Medicare has consistently cut payments for cancer patients and this is slowly dismantling the country's treatment system. Even now CMS is pursuing a course of action, based on insufficient and inaccurate data, which will further severely cut payments for cancer care. Physicians cannot continue to shoulder these losses.
"Additional cuts now planned by CMS are simply unrealistic: they will accelerate the erosion of the nation's cancer care delivery system. In reforming our country's healthcare system, if a 'public' insurance option is created based on Medicare -- or even 5-10% above Medicare rates -- and results in private insurers lowering their payments accordingly, practices simply would have to close their doors. This is borne out by modeling work recently completed by several large practices.
"We call on President Obama, who used examples of cancer patients in his comments, to consider the incredible hurdles facing both today's cancer patients and doctors in treating cancer.
"Dr. Robert Fein, a medical oncologist practicing in Somerset, New Jersey, stated it best in an editorial he penned recently for the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
'As we reform health care, we must address the plight of cancer patients... Just as I would treat a sick patient, we must fix a broken system, starting with Medicare.'
"We have heard the President's request to the medical community to help shoulder a portion of the price for health care reform. Community oncology practices have already contributed more than their share by enduring Medicare payment cuts in excess of 25% over the past 5-6 years.
"Despite these challenges, we are committed to being a part of the solution. Over this past year, COA convened a task force of practicing oncologists to analyze Best Practices for improving the quality of cancer care while controlling costs, which can also be implemented without major infrastructure changes.
"The result of that effort is embodied in legislation that was recently introduced in the Congress by Representatives Artur Davis, Steve Israel, and Mary Jo Kilroy -- the Medicare Quality Cancer Care Demonstration Project Act of 2009 (H.R. 2872). This bill would create a national cancer care demonstration project, open to all oncology clinics, which would refine quality metrics dealing with recognized, evidence-based treatment guidelines and patient-centric, coordinated care. The demonstration project would include the active involvement of community cancer clinics already using electronic medical records, bringing information to augment data collected by the Medicare system. This is a real-life application of health information technology, and the type of public-private collaborative effort that will be necessary to reform the health care system.
"The United States has the best overall cancer care in the world as documented by five-year survival rates -- a true measure of performance. The success is due in large part to earlier detection, more precisely targeted therapies, and unparalleled access to quality, compassionate cancer care. During the past 25 years, cancer care in this country has evolved away from long stays at hospitals for chemotherapy treatments, to the outpatient, community setting. Along with advances in medicine, it is this system that is hailed as one of the best, and the smartest, in the world.
"With all of our success, cancer is still the second leading cause of death in this country, claiming on average the life of one American every minute.
"COA pledges that cancer clinics across the country will work together to increase the quality of cancer care while controlling costs; however, we need President Obama's leadership to help overcome the immediate crisis that is now destroying what has worked so well for our patients. Our ability to treat the current and future generations of Americans battling cancer hangs in the balance."
More information can be found on the COA web site at www.communityoncology.org.
SOURCE The Community Oncology Alliance