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Zon Discusses ASCO's State of Cancer Care Report

Tony Hagen @oncobiz
Published: Thursday, Mar 23, 2017

Robin Zon, MD

Robin Zon, MD

Many significant milestones were achieved in oncology, according to the fourth annual State of Cancer Care in America report from ASCO, released this week. In an interview with OncLive, Robin Zon, MD, chair-elect of the ASCO Government Relations Committee, responded to questions about key issues raised in the report.

The report covers new drugs approved by the FDA as well as new indications for existing cancer fighting medicines. It talks about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the extended access to care for millions of Americans. It also discusses ASCO’s interest in seeing federal funding continue for cancer discovery and clinical trials programs.

Also discussed are obstacles that remain to be surmounted. There are disparities in care between rural and urban population zones. There are imbalances in the number of female oncologists versus male and white oncologists versus black and Hispanic, and there is a need to break down barriers that prevent health information from flowing to research programs and institutions that could use that data to improve healthcare, ASCO wrote in its report.

Below are Zon’s answers to questions about the report posed by OncLive.

OncLive: What are the key takeaways from this year’s report?

Zon: This year’s State of Cancer Care report really shows that we’re in a time of rapid change all across the US cancer care delivery system. There are a few key points that really stick out to me:

First, we’re seeing a wave of new patients with cancer as our population grows and ages. We’re also seeing more survivors of cancer—proof that we’ve made great progress over the past several decades. All of these patients and survivors will require continued access to quality care.

At the same time, we’re hearing from oncology professionals that increasing administrative burdens and cost-sharing measures are making it harder for them to spend time with their patients. This is clearly an issue that will need to be addressed, particularly as the patient population continues to grow.

Second, the report shows that access to affordable care continues to be a major challenge. Even when patients have health insurance, the cost of receiving treatment can be too high, with approximately one-third of working-age cancer survivors incurring debt as a result of treatment. I’d also add that disparities—by race, ethnicity, geography, and other socioeconomic factors—continue to persist.

I do think that this report shows that there’s quite a lot of positive activity occurring in many different spheres. New, more effective treatments have been introduced, and we’re making steady progress towards rapid-learning health systems that will help us learn from an even larger patient population. I’m also encouraged by the momentum around value initiatives. Organizations, including ASCO, are continuing to look at how value frameworks or alternative payment models will improve the evolution toward high-quality, value-based care. There’s a lot in the report that gives me hope.

The report highlights the improvements in coverage for Americans under the ACA. Where does ASCO stand on the repeal and replace effort?

We’re taking a careful look at all of the health reform proposals. We’ve developed a set of patient-centered principles that guide all of our positions on continued efforts on healthcare reform. We’re committed to working with policymakers on both sides of the aisle and the entire cancer community to provide equal access to affordable, quality health care for people with cancer. Access to health care coverage is a hallmark of those principles.

The report also praises the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act for supporting discovery, but the proposed cut in funding for the National Institutes of Health could undermine that achievement. ASCO opposes the administration’s budget outline, which would cut $6 billion from the National Institutes for Health (NIH). Reducing NIH's funding by over 18% will devastate our nation's already fragile federal research infrastructure and undercut a longstanding commitment to biomedical science that has fueled advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

We have consistently said that the funding included in the 21st Century Cures Act should supplement— not supplant—predictable increases in the NIH’s budget, which are critical to continue promising research efforts.

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