Cancer Groups Decry Lack of Key Benefit Enhancements in Senate Medicare Package

November 1, 2002

National cancer advocacy groups leveled harsh criticism at Senate negotiators from both parties for their failure to include any significant enhancements of beneficiary entitlements in a pending Medicare legislative package. Ellen Stovall, president of the

National cancer advocacy groups leveled harsh criticism at Senate negotiators from both parties for their failure to include any significant enhancements of beneficiary entitlements in a pending Medicare legislative package. Ellen Stovall, president of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship and a convener of the Cancer Leadership Council, said, "Once the cancer community understands that the Senate leadership is prepared to offer more than $40 billion in so-called provider givebacks and nothing for people with cancer, they will be very angry."

Among the provisions being considered by the Senate was the Access to CancerTherapies Act (S. 913), which would extend Medicare coverage to all oralanticancer drugs, including new targeted therapies like imatinib (Gleevec) andwidely prescribed agents like tamoxifen. Patient advocates strongly support thelegislation as a means of providing cancer patients immediate access tolife-extending drugs that are available only in oral form and thus not currentlycovered by Medicare. The bill has enjoyed broad bipartisan support from membersof Congress, with more than half of all senators signed on as cosponsors andmore than three-quarters of all House members cosponsoring the Housecounterpart, H.R. 1624.

Given that level of support and the relatively modest cost associated withthe legislation, advocates for cancer patients had hoped the provision would bea high priority for Senate negotiators. According to Ms. Stovall, "We wereparticularly hopeful that the leadership of the Finance Committee, mostly comingfrom rural states, would appreciate the distinct advantages of oral cancermedications to their constituents, who might not have ready access to a localoncologist. Failure to address this clear need is a great disappointment."

Cancer groups also consistently supported a comprehensive benefit underMedicare, but realized that projected expense and ideologic differences madethat unlikely in this Congress. "The Senate negotiators could have made asignificant downpayment on an eventual comprehensive benefit by including S.913, but chose not to do so," Ms. Stovall said. "Cancer patients willfeel betrayed by that unfortunate decision."