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Moffitt questions proposed cancer care distinction

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Published:   |   Updated: April 15, 2013 at 11:51 AM

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TAMPA -

Political efforts to promote Florida as a premiere destination for cancer care are raising concern at the state’s elite oncology hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center.

The state Senate last week unanimously passed the “Quality Cancer Care and Research” bill, which establishes a legislative seal of approval for cancer centers that meet certain standards. House members are expected to take up the issue this week.

Minimum criteria listed in the bill would make 71 of the state’s hospitals eligible for the designation, meant to help hospitals attract more patients through marketing and ads on TV, billboards and newspapers. They also would earn preference in bids for state biomedical grants.

Though a board of cancer experts would add more performance measures to the bill’s list of standards, there is no guarantee it won’t dilute the value of hospitals already recognized as leaders, said Jamie Wilson, Moffitt’s vice president for government relations.

“We understand the state is trying to promote more involvement in cancer research,” Wilson said. “We want to make sure it doesn’t lower the standards of care or misrepresent the quality of care.”

Moffitt prides itself as being Florida’s only hospital with the prestigious National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center designation, and it uses that elite title in its own advertising. The Tampa-based hospital is one of 41 such research-based programs nationwide.

The bill’s key sponsor, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said it’s important the state raise the profile of any hospital that provides quality, comprehensive care for cancer patients. Floridians, as well as potential patients around the world, need a way to identify the best programs.

“Moffitt should take great pride in attaining an NCI designation and for all the work they have accomplished and continue to advance,” Flores said in an email interview. “However, not all cancer centers in Florida conduct research. Most focus on cancer care and treatment.”

One impetus for the bill, Flores said, was a letter sent last year by Gov. Rick Scott to Moffitt, academic cancer programs at Shands Cancer Hospital in Gainesville and the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Scott warned the centers to not use state biomedical grants to their advantage, sell their brand to private companies or earn royalties related to their status. The former hospital executive also reiterated his interest in leveling the competitive field for academic, nonprofit and for-profit hospitals.

Moffitt President and Chief Executive Officer Alan List said Scott’s bigger concern was attracting business to more Florida hospitals, in the form of new cancer patients. In response to the letter, the three academic hospitals collaborated and submitted to him a statewide plan for promoting cancer care, List said.

“The governor wants Florida to be a destination site for people with cancer, much like MD Anderson (Cancer Center) is in the state of Texas,” List said. “That was his goal and priority to make that happen.”

Florida’s Department of Health continues to develop its plan, a private-public partnership called Florida’s System for Cancer Research & Collaboration, agency spokeswoman Molly Kellogg said. On Friday, Surgeon General John Armstrong will host a symposium on the plan in Tallahassee.

Kellogg said while Flores’ bill is not an official part of that strategy, it does complement the goal of making Florida a premiere destination for treatment.

“The one thing they share is an interest in making sure Floridians have the best care,” she said.

Long before politicians proposed this new bill or a statewide plan, Florida’s hospitals had a robust competitive atmosphere. Many Tampa-area hospitals already use distinctions, such as rankings from U.S. News and World Report, in their marketing and ads.

This new set of standards, however, could go beyond advertising opportunities, said Harvey Greenberg, a physician at Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology in Brandon and Florida Hospital Tampa. The “quality cancer care” title could help individuals whose cancer may not need the attention of a large research institution,

“It might identify other entities other than Moffitt and Sylvester that offer a higher standard of care,” Greenberg said. “It presents something that could be valuable to the public.”

The effort to create another step in the hospital quality hierarchy is similar in some ways to Tallahassee’s more than 7-year-old battle over the differences between the state’s public universities.

This year, legislators are debating giving the University of Florida $15 million more than the state’s other public universities, partly because its designation as one of 62 members of the Association of American Universities and its research success. Schools other than UF continue to balk at the idea of making one preeminent program.

Moffitt’s List believes research is one reason why the Tampa hospital stands out from other cancer programs. If the state is serious about attracting the world’s best cancer treatment, recruiting researchers and recognizing their value is important, List said.

“We are one of the biggest cancer centers in the country. We’re also one of the leading ones in research,” List said. “To get the best people that we want to bring in, I know the governor really wants this to be a destination site, then you need to be able to invest in” research.

Flores said her bill doesn’t contradict that concept. It simply highlights others who may not focus solely on cancer the way Moffitt does, she said. The quality cancer care seal of approval process will include serious scrutiny from other cancer experts, raising standards for everyone.

“I have confidence that the councils will produce rigorous standards that will elevate the level of care provided in our state,” she said.


mshedden@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7365

Twitter: @MaryShedden

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