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For Immediate Release: March 19, 2012
Association of Community Cancer Centers Examines Trends in Cancer Care Delivery: Financial Needs of Patients Remain High
ROCKVILLE, Md.—Results from a recently released survey by the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) suggest that many of the nation’s cancer programs are seeing more uninsured and underinsured chemotherapy patients, as well as more patients who need help affording their medication.
“This year’s survey of ACCC members provides insight into the effects of a sluggish economy on cancer patients and the challenges that cancer programs face in accommodating patients unable to pay,” said Thomas L. Whittaker, MD, FACP, ACCC Past-President. “In addition, ACCC’s survey reveals how cancer programs are working to better serve patients, control costs, and implement new standards.”
Increasingly, cancer programs are using financial counselors, either oncology specific or general to the hospital, to help patients enroll in drug assistance programs and verify coverage. Patients unable to pay may experience a delay in care while the program determines how to best accommodate them. These patients may be unable to receive the most current treatment, which is often the most expensive drug.
"ACCC continues to have great concerns about the ability of cancer patients to afford the medication they need and access the quality care they deserve," said Dr. Whittaker.
Cancer programs reported that expansion and replacement plans for clinical technology remain limited. Across the line, the numbers of ultrasound imaging machines, computer tomography scanners, magnetic resonance machines, PET and PET/CT machines, and linear accelerators budgeted for purchase in the next fiscal year are down.
Still, there are signs the economy is improving. Most cancer programs reported that their financial health is good or very good, and 46 percent of respondents plan to expand their infusion center.
The “Cancer Care Trends in Community Cancer Centers” survey is a joint project between ACCC and Eli Lilly, and was conducted by Kantar Health. This is the third year in which the survey has been conducted. The survey is available to ACCC members and on request.
- Programs are actively seeking to reduce or control costs without compromising quality and services. Respondents emphasized that they seek the “right” staffing or “flexible” staffing, and not necessarily a reduction in full-time employees. Less than one-quarter (24 percent) of respondents indicated that their strategies to reduce costs include delaying information technology improvements. This percentage is down significantly from 42 percent in last year’s survey.
- Community relationships between cancer programs and physicians continue to evolve as oncologists in private offices struggle with declining reimbursements and seek financial stability. Many are opting for employment at hospitals. Professional services agreements between cancer programs and medical and hematological oncologists increased compared to previous years.
- Members agree that the new Commission on Cancer Standards are good for patients, but are concerned about meeting the new requirements. New CoC standards include requirements to provide treatment and survivorship plans, palliative care services, genetics services, navigation programs, and psychosocial distress screenings. Some programs reported they are more prepared than others, but most anticipate that they will be challenged to maintain accreditation.
- The use of electronic medical records (EMRs) is increasing, but is still not universal in community cancer programs. In 2011, 78 percent of respondents reported utilization of EMRs versus 65 percent in the first year of the survey. More than half (59 percent) of respondents that do use EMRs report using more than one software.
- Only one in three infusion centers dispenses oral cancer drugs; however, this is up from last year’s one in four. Seventy-two percent of dispensers have quality initiatives related to orals. Prices for most orally administered antineoplastic agents can be high and margins tend to be low. Still, the use of oral anti-cancer agents is likely to increase in the coming years with the development and approval of a growing number of new oral formulations to fight cancer.