Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cancer Treatment Centers of America: Misleading statistics and big money for tea party groups


If you watch much television, you've probably seen the Cancer Treatment Centers of America ads suggesting that CTCA is a miracle worker. If you look at the statistics the for-profit cancer treatment chain provides, again you might think it's a miracle worker. There's a reason for that, though, and it's got nothing to do with miracles and everything to do with the kind of business practices you might expect from a company founded by someone who's given millions to tea party groups like FreedomWorks. Turns out, Cancer Treatment Centers of America both turns away patients who are likely to have bad outcomes—elderly people, uninsured people, people on Medicaid—and offers misleading statistics about the pool of patients it has cherry-picked to have the best chance of survival.
At the Zion hospital, about 14 percent of patients were covered by Medicare and 4 percent by Medicaid in 2011, according to data the hospital submitted to Illinois health authorities. Over the previous 10 years, the Medicaid percentage was often in the single digits. Reuters was not able to obtain data from CTCA's other hospitals.

In the database CTCA compares itself to, called SEER and run by the National Cancer Institute, 53 percent of patients were diagnosed at the Medicare-eligible age of 65 or older, and 14 percent are below the poverty level, an indication of those covered by Medicaid or uninsured. [...]

CTCA also appears to exclude the vast majority of its patients when it calculates survival data. In survival results from 2004 to 2008 posted on its website, CTCA reported 61 patients with advanced prostate cancer, 97 with advanced breast cancer, 434 with advanced lung cancer, and 165 with advanced colon or rectal cancer. These are the four most common solid tumors. In the same period, CTCA treated thousands of patients at its Zion facility alone, according to filings with state regulators.

This shining example of American medicine was founded by Richard Stephenson, who continues to be its chairman. Stephenson made news last fall when he helped force former House Majority Leader Dick Armey out of the tea party group FreedomWorks with the promise of $400,000 a year for 20 years. Stephenson also secretly funneled millions more to FreedomWorks through two corporations set up by a Tennessee lawyer, seemingly for the purposes of making those donations.

That's what Cancer Treatment Centers of America delivers: If you're rich and healthy enough to get in, you're getting falsely hopeful information about the results CTCA offers. And the profits from your treatment are likely to be going to the likes of FreedomWorks.

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