WASHINGTONCongressional backers of The Medicare Cancer
Clinical Trials Coverage Act see its chances of passage
improving, in part because of the active support of cancer advocacy
groups and the direct involvement of oncologists . The legislation,
actually two identical bills introduced in the House and Senate,
would create a 5-year demonstration program in which Medicare would
pay for patient care during cancer clinical trials and determine the
true costs of such coverage.
Im very optimistic about our ability to ultimately get
Medicare patients included in cancer clinical trials, said Rep.
Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn), who introduced the bill in the House,
together with Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md).
Rep. Johnson continued: We cant allow the cancer clinical
trials initiative to move forward without seniors because they are
the majority of cancer patients. If you dont know how the
various cancer treatments affect people over the age of 65, you
dont gain the information you need for the future. We are
making solid progress in educating members of Congress so they
understand the importance of this.
An initial assessment of the legislation by the Congressional Budget
Office concluded that the bill would greatly increase Medicare costs.
However, oncologists have recently been presenting studies showing
little or no difference between the patient-care costs of clinical
trials and those of routine treatments. And now they are actively
involved in working to shape the legislations cost assessment.
We have had tremendous support from the American Society of
Clinical Oncology, as well as the American Association of Cancer
Institutions, Rep. Johnson said at a congressional briefing
sponsored by the National Coalition for Cancer Research. For
the first time in my experience, we have actually had practicing
clinical oncologists in the same room with Congressional Budget
Office estimators. The effort is aimed at accurately estimating
the actual cost to the Medicare program should Congress enact the
In August, the Senate billintroduced by Sen. Connie Mack
(R-Fla) and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WVa)had 39
co-sponsors, and the House version had 106 co-sponsors. I want
to emphasize that this is not a partisan issue, Rep. Cardin
Mark Smith, an aide to Sen. Mack, said that his boss and Sen.
Rockefeller were enthusiastically working to get their
bill included in legislation being pulled together by Sen. William V.
Roth, Jr. (R-Del), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which
will take up the issue in September.