Connections - March 2014
Health Law Brings Unexpected Restrictions for Some Cancer Patients
A recent Associated Press (AP) story documented a concerning access-to-care issue that’s playing out around the country as the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) take effect.
“Some of America’s best cancer hospitals are off-limits to many of the people now signing up for coverage under the nation’s new health care program,” noted the AP report. “An Associated Press survey found examples coast to coast…. In all, only four of 19 nationally recognized comprehensive cancer centers that responded to AP’s survey said patients have access through all the insurance companies in their states’ exchanges.” The article, first published March 18, has been reproduced in dozens of major print and online news outlets, including the New York Times and Washington Post.
Dr. Willie Underwood III, a urologic oncologist who holds appointments with RPCI’s Department of Urology and Office of Cancer Health Disparities Research, was asked to share his thoughts on these developments with the AP as well as two regional media outlets.
These news reports are among the latest to document the narrowing of coverage networks, a nationwide trend motivated by the understandable need to cut costs. But when such restrictions prevent patients from getting care from centers that are among the best in the nation, they are counterproductive, and may actually result in higher health care expenditures and lower quality of care — a point Dr. Underwood underscored in his comments to media outlets. “The goal (of the ACA) is to improve the health and health care of the nation,” Dr. Underwood told the Buffalo News. “To create a situation that means that some people are excluded from these facilities is probably not within the intent of the law.”
How might cancer patients in Western and Upstate New York be affected? Not only might they be unable to get treated at their center of choice, but they may not be able to access new drugs and therapies offered only through clinical trials offered at comprehensive centers. They may not be able to seek care from a multidisciplinary team that will consider all available therapy options without bias.
It must be noted that the ACA, on the whole, increases access to health care coverage dramatically and includes many provisions that protect the best interests of cancer patients, including those that guarantee access to clinical research studies and ban restrictions based on pre-existing medical conditions.
It’s reasonable to expect a few hiccups with the implementation of a legislative package of the scope of the health reform law. But it’s also reasonable to expect that any unintended, damaging consequences — such as the inability of some patients to get cancer care from a comprehensive cancer center — will be quickly remedied.
A letter opposing this restriction of access to care is currently circulating on Capitol Hill; Reps. Chris Collins, Brian Higgins and Tom Reed are among the lawmakers who have signed on so far. We’re grateful for their advocacy on an issue that affects our patients so significantly.
As we wait to see what steps the federal government takes to address these obstacles, please let us know if you or a loved one is unable to get coverage for care at Roswell Park Cancer Institute; call us at 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724) or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know how you’ve been impacted.
– Donald L. Trump, MD, FACP
President & CEO
Secondhand Smoke Can Lead to Miscarriages, Stillbirths
A collaborative Roswell Park/University at Buffalo study provides new evidence on the effects of secondhand smoke on pregnancy, including links to miscarriage, stillbirth and tubal ectopic pregnancies. Andrew Hyland, PhD, led the research, which found that the pregnancy risks associated with women’s secondhand smoke exposure were almost as high as the risks related to their own cigarette smoking.
Journal Honors RPCI Team’s Work as ‘Paper of the Week’
A study by Kelvin Lee, MD and colleagues received special recognition from the Journal of Biological Chemistry, which highlighted their research on how components of the immune system determine whether to turn the immune system “on” or “off” as its “Paper of the Week.”
Study Reveals Role of 2 Transcription Factors in Development of Cancer
A team led by Mikhail Nikiforov, PhD, made important new findings about some of the processes that lead to development of cancer, highlighting the role of two transcription factors in oxidative stress.
TRANSFER Act Benefits Scientists, Economy & Taxpayers
By Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27)
Government does not create jobs, but it does help build the right environment for the private sector to create jobs. Helping to build the right environment for job creation is one of my main goals as a Member of Congress and the reason behind the TRANSFER Act (H.R. 2981). Recently passed by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, I introduced the TRANSFER Act to help scientists commercialize their great ideas. The TRANSFER Act builds upon a current program and specifically awards grants to innovative technology transfer programs at universities, research institutes, and national laboratories.
This legislation addresses what we as a Committee have heard time and time again – there is a valley of death – a place where innovative new ideas die because there is no path to commercialization. This legislation mends that valley. Every day, new ideas are realized at our universities, national labs, and non-profit research institutes like Roswell Park Cancer Institute. These ideas often remain just ideas because many researchers lack the resources to further their invention or concept. By investing in some of our nation’s brightest minds, we can create desperately needed new jobs and small businesses.
The bipartisan and budget neutral TRANSFER Act would provide $50,000 grants, on average, and has wide support in the higher education, research and innovation sectors, including local support from the University at Buffalo and Roswell. Roswell has been a leader in bringing innovation to the marketplace, establishing over 11 biotech spin off companies in the last eight years formed by Roswell employees and utilizing the technologies developed right here in Buffalo. While already proving successful at fostering spin off companies, the TRANSFER ACT would enable Roswell to apply for funding to move promising technologies forward in new ways. This will allow more development to happen within Roswell Park—ultimately accelerating the process of development, licensing, and providing potentially lifesaving technology with commercial partners.
The TRANSFER Act is also a benefit to federal taxpayers. Last year, the federal government funded more than $131 billion in research and development activities. The federal government funds more than half of all basic research conducted at our nation’s colleges and universities. Grants aimed at helping take ideas to the marketplace will help American taxpayers realize a greater return on their investments and improve the competitiveness of the American economy. There is no doubt that Americans will benefit from the acceleration of new products, technologies, and medicines.
The House Small Business Committee is also reviewing the TRANSFER Act and the full House of Representatives is expected to take up the bill later this year. I look forward to working with the dedicated and talented people of Roswell to continue to champion this legislation for the benefit of Western New York and communities all across our great country.
Congressman Chris Collins represents New York’s 27th Congressional District which includes all or parts of Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, Livingston, Ontario and Monroe counties. Collins serves on the House Agriculture, Small Business, and Science, Space & Technology committees.
Complementary Approach for Patients Through ‘Healing Touch’
A patient undergoing treatment for cancer can often feel the effects physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. To help patients at any stage of cancer and their loved ones, a program called Healing Touch was launched thanks to donor funds at Roswell Park.
Healing Touch is recognized by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) as an energy medicine or biofield therapy. During a session, which is considered complementary to traditional medicine, a practitioner uses a compassionate, heart-centered approach to balance, clear, or revitalize the energy field of a patient. A series of hand positions are used either above or gently on the patient’s energy centers to bring the body into balance and promote patient centered-healing.
In 2013, Lynda Beaupin, MD, Pediatric Oncology, and Sue Hess, PhD, CHTP (Certified Healing Touch Practitioner) launched Healing Touch as a pilot program. They completed an eight-session program, training members of RPCI’s Carly’s Club in Healing Touch techniques. A year later, they are now training additional volunteers in Healing Touch. The program has evolved into a joint venture with the Life Transitions Center (LTC), an affiliate of The Center for Hospice & Palliative Care that provides emotional and social support for individuals and families coping with a serious illness, caregiver responsibilities, and/or bereavement.
“We are excited about our partnership with LTC and the programs we hope to offer to cancer survivors and caregivers, especially since pilot participants felt Healing Touch empowered them and would complement the excellent care they receive at Roswell,” said Hess.
Roswell Park faculty members regularly share their expertise with major national media outlets and oncology publications. Some recent examples:
Dr. Maciej Goniewicz to Chemical & Engineering News: “There’s no reason for experimenting with (electronic cigarettes) if you’re not already smoking tobacco cigarettes…. Parents using e-cigarettes around small kids should be aware of these findings.”
Dr. Steven Nurkin to MedPage Today: “I don’t think we’re looking at this test to replace colonoscopies, but it’s just another modality that could be used, and a screening test that potentially could be used in people who are unwilling or unable to undergo a colonoscopy.”
Dr. Willie Underwood III to Medscape: “This study may change clinical practice for those using or considering using zoledronic acid in prostate cancer patients with bone metastases prior to castration resistance. (The results will) prevent unnecessary side effects of a drug that doesn't have a benefit, and the financial cost to the health system associated with using the drug.”
Commitment to the comfort and ease of patients translates to MobilexUSA’s corporate giving philosophy.
“We proudly have made a donation to support Roswell Cancer Center in providing outstanding care and services for their patients during what is undoubtedly one of the most anxious times in their lives,” says Mary Jo Brennan, Senior Vice President at MobilexUSA. “Our lives have all been touched by the courageous battle these patients take on and we are honored to be a part of easing some of the stress that accompanies cancer treatment and allow patients to focus on what matters, their healing.”
MobilexUSA has been trusted for more than 35 years to provide the highest quality comprehensive mobile technology and diagnostic services, including digital radiology, cardiology, ultrasound and other mobile clinical services. Built on this commitment to quality care, MobilexUSA has more than 1,200 licensed technologists and sonographers who travel to more than 7,000 facilities located throughout most of the United States, serving patients 24 hours a day, every day. This unprecedented service is received by patients in long-term care and healthcare facilities, nursing homes, rehabilitation hospitals, home care and hospice agencies, correctional institutions, occupational medicine and professional sports franchises.
For more information on MobilexUSA visit their website at www.mobilexusa.com.
City Mattress will donate a portion of proceeds from their sales during the month of March to Roswell Park’s Pediatric Unit Campaign.
View a list of City Mattress locations here.
A Taste for Life
Help support a promising genetic test for lung cancer developed at RPCI, while enjoying wine, craft beer and sweet treats at A Taste for Life.
Your support of A Taste for Life will enable Roswell Park to make the test possible for as many patients as possible, moving research forward and making a difference for all lung cancer patients now and in the future. Click here to buy your tickets.
Be part of this year’s Ride For Roswell
Now is the time to register for The Ride For Roswell 2014!
Your participation in The Ride For Roswell helps fuel Roswell Park’s ability to find cancer cures and save lives. Register to ride or volunteer today.
Concerns About Cancer Centers Under Health Law — The Washington Post, 3/18/14
Secondhand Smoke Tied to Miscarriages, Stillbirths — Reuters, 3/14/14
Campaign Launched to Get More Blacks in Clinical Trials — Florida Courier, 3/13/14
Mom’s Blog About Sick Boy Spurs Outpouring of Community Support — 3/8/14
The Buffalo News
Roswell Park Study: Are E-Cigs Safer Than Cigarettes? — WIVB-TV Channel 4, 3/5/14
17 Year Old Fights Cancer and Inspires Others — WGRZ-TV Channel 2, 2/24/14
Screening works—Colon cancers decline 30 percent
Fewer Americans age 50 and older are being diagnosed with colon and rectal cancers thanks to the growing use of screening tests, such as colonoscopy, which can detect and remove colorectal polyps before they become cancerous.
According to a new report from the American Cancer Society, the rate of colon cancer has dropped 30 percent in the last 10 years for people age 50 and older. Over the same years, colonoscopy use has nearly tripled from 19 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2010 among people ages 50 to 75.
The report estimates more than 130,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and more than 50,000 will die from the disease this year. Screening tests can detect cancers at earlier stages when treatment is most successful.
“During colonoscopy, polyps can be diagnosed and removed, eliminating potential formation of cancerous growths,” says Steven Hochwald, MD, FACS, Chief of Gastrointestinal Surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. “Although testing has increased, colonoscopy is still underutilized, especially in the elderly and medically underserved populations. Colonoscopy is the best test; however, other less invasive screenings are available, such as computed tomography guided colonoscopy.”
Experts recommend colon cancer screening beginning at age 50 for people at average risk; some people face higher risk due to a family history of the disease, prior polyps or other cancers, smoking, a genetic condition or inflammatory bowel disease. People at higher risk may need to begin screening earlier or get tested more often. Talk to your doctor about your personal risk and when you should be screened. Read RPCI’s Colorectal Cancer Tip Sheet to learn more about how to protect yourself.
The Path to Legalization of Medical Marijuana in New York
Currently, there are two different proposals being pursued in New York State regarding medical marijuana. One utilizes a law that has been on the books since 1980, and the other is a new pending piece of legislation called the Compassionate Care Act. This article will not discuss the advantages or disadvantages of the particular approaches, it will just explain the two avenues being pursued.
In his State of the State address in January 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed the utilization of the Antonio G. Olivieri Controlled Substance Therapeutic Research Program, a law passed in 1980. He described his wish to begin a small pilot research program that would study the merits of medical marijuana in New York. The law requires up to 20 hospitals statewide to participate in this program. Its process would be conducted following clinical-trial-based research methods with key questions presented to be answered, with only a specific group of eligible patients participating. It allows for the use of controlled substances for “cancer patients, glaucoma patients, and patients afflicted with other diseases, as such diseases are approved by the Commissioner of Health.”
The Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Senator Diane Savino, would create a comprehensive medical marijuana program with provisions for growing and dispensing. This pending legislation would allow the use of marijuana under medical supervision to treat severely debilitating or life-threatening conditions. The bill also sets regulation and control standards and includes an excise tax to be shared with local governments. This bill was approved by the Assembly Health Committee in January 2014 and has been included in the Assembly budget proposal, since it estimates tax revenues.
Currently 20 states and the District of Columbia have approved the use of medical marijuana. By all appearances, it seems that New York may be following on this path.
Breast cancer survivor Averl Anderson speaking at the launch of the I'm In campaign, a national initiative to enroll patients from diverse and underrepresented groups in clinical research studies. "Today’s cures were yesterday’s clinical trials, and today’s clinical studies are tomorrow’s cures," said the longtime patient advocate, who participated in a clinical trial offered at RPCI.