WASHINGTONAll cancer patients should have the opportunity to participate in clinical trials, something that will occur only if Congress passes pending legislation to guarantee insurance coverage for the cost of routine patient care for study participants, speakers told a Capitol Hill briefing sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
Such coverage is included in the Patients Bill of Rights bills currently being considered by a HouseSenate conference committee.
Access to Trials
Far too few patients in this country have access to cancer clinical trials, which can offer patients their best and last hope of effective therapy, said Lowell Schnipper, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston.
Frank Haluska, MD, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, told the gathering, Our responsibility is to support legislation that allows patients to take part in clinical trials despite their means.
Currently, only about 3% of adult cancer patients participate in clinical trials. One reason is that often health insurance plans refuseif the patient is part of a research studyto pay for patient care costs they would normally cover.
Both Houses passed legislation last year and a conference committee is trying to resolve differences in the two bills. Many in oncology would like to see a requirement that coverage include both NCI-sponsored trials and FDA-approved trials sponsored by pharmaceutical companies.
If clinical trials are not supported, we destroy not only todays medical care but the future of research and effective drug therapies, said Christina Carr, representing the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. We will muzzle research and discourage researchers in frontline medical discoveries.
Added Ellen Stovall, executive director of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship: Any legislation that falls short of including clinical trials sponsored by qualified nongovernmental agencies and industry will not be acceptable.
Ms. Stovall stressed that the collaboration of industry, academia, and government can result in the most efficient clinical trials system that identifies safe and effective treatments at the earliest possible time, to ensure that those therapies are appropriately covered by third-party payers and that unsafe and ineffective therapies are not utilized.