Monday, August 25, 2014

I frankly expected better from HealthLeaders Media, which usually has well researched and thoughtful stories.  This one, though, reads like a press release from the investment bankers and law firms that make a bundle from proton beam projects.

Here's the most troubling statement:

As more American patients have become aware of the less invasive technology, they are emerging as a key driver of proton beam center growth in the United States, Caron says.

Who's Mr. Caron?

A partner at Chicago-based law firm McDermott, Will and Emery, who has worked on proton beam therapy center projects for more than eight years.

Aided and abetted by Leonard Arzt, executive director of the National Association for Proton Therapy, who says:

[C]onsumer demand for the treatment has created a marketing opportunity for the top cancer centers in the country. "If you're in the radiation oncology business, you want the latest and greatest tool."

Only at the bottom of the story do we get a truly thoughtful comment:

But Cigna, which also works with Bluffton, SC-based CareCore National LLC to manage proton beam therapy coverage, reimburses the therapy for only three conditions, citing a lack of clinical evidence showing the treatment is superior to more conventional radiation therapy for most cancers. "While PBT has been used in patients in the United States since the mid-1950s, and although it has been shown to be effective in some malignancies, there is no published data clearly demonstrating superiority over conventional forms of radiation therapy," state the Bloomfield, CT-based carrier's guidelines for radiation therapy.

If you want to know what's really driving consumer demand, it is the growing supply of these machines, supported by ill-conceived Medicare funding--a true product of the medical-industrial complex.  Gary Schwitzer and I have been writing about this debacle for several years.  In one, Gary quotes a Bloomberg report:

“Proton-beam therapy is like the death star of American medical technology; nothing so big and complicated has ever been confronted by the system,” said Amitabh Chandra, a health economist at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “It’s a metaphor for all the problems we have in American medicine.”


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