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 legislation.
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 said.
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.