As described elsewhere on this website, ASCO has worked shamelessly to preserve a system which presents an impossible conflict of interest for both cancer centers and treating oncologists. This is a system in which there is a financial incentive to choose certain forms of chemotherapy over certain others and to administer infusion chemotherapy as opposed to providing other forms of patient care. Not the least of the problems is that this inherently corrupt system provides a strong disincentive to "individualize" or "tailor" therapy, based on laboratory testing, because such individualized treatment removes the oncologist's "freedom to choose" from between a large number of different possible drug regimens, with wildly differing profit margins.
Recently, Public Interest Watch has called for a government investigation into ASCO, for the manipulative ways in which it has attempted to scuttle badly-needed reforms in this inherently corrupt system. The press release below cites a recent Associated Press account of maneuverings by ASCO in its attempts to preserve its lucrative "chemo concession."
LOS ANGELES-September 8, 2004-Public Interest Watch ("PIW") today called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS") to open a formal investigation of its contract with Ketchum Communications ("Ketchum") to promote reforms to Medicare.
According to the Associated Press, Ketchum is HHS' principal contractor in its $87 million public campaign to gain acceptance of recent changes to Medicare. ("Cancer doctors raise flag on Medicare cuts," September 8, 2004, Associated Press via CNN.com)
In its report, the Associated Press also notes that Ketchum simultaneously is under contract with the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) to scuttle some of the very changes HHS is paying it to promote.
PIW Interim Executive Director Lewis Fein stated, "Ketchum's conduct in this matter appears to be so blatantly unethical that it defies explanation. It is literally working both sides of the same issue, and millions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted."
Fein also noted, "We believe the American Society of Clinical Oncologists is just as at fault as Ketchum. ASCO's decision to retain Ketchum appears to be nothing more than a premeditated attempt to corrupt the legislative process and to waste millions in public funds in the process."
ASCO has run into trouble before in the course of its campaign against Medicare reform. In March, the editorial board of the New York Times criticized "angry doctors" for "terrorizing their patients" into believing that a reformed Medicare drug reimbursement plan would force them to turn cancer patients out to less convenient and less comfortable hospitals for chemotherapy treatment. ("Cancer Scare Tactics," March 22, 2004, New York Times)
PIW was established to spotlight abuses of public funds by non-profit organizations and private industry. PIW is a 501(c) 4 non-profit organization.