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ACS CAN: Drug pricing policy should prioritize patient affordability

On July 16, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) submitted comments to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding proposals to reduce prescription drug costs outlined in the administration's Request for Information (RFI) regarding its Blueprint to Lower Drug Prices and Reduce Out-of-Pocket Costs (blueprint). 

A number of the proposals explore cost-cutting measures in the Medicare program. These proposals include altering rules around Medicare Part D's "six protected classes," shifting some drug coverage from the Part B to the Part D program, implementing a cap on Part D out-of-pocket costs, and eliminating cost sharing for generic drugs for certain low-income Medicare beneficiaries.

A statement on the proposals from ACS CAN President Chris Hansen follows:

"Medicare changes can have a profound impact on cancer patients. Half of the 1.7 million new cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S. this year will be among people 65 or older and age is the single greatest risk factor for cancer. Affordable access to prescription therapies is essential to treating this population. 

"Currently, Medicare Part D prescription drug plans are required to cover nearly all drugs in what are known as the "six protected classes." This policy is intended to ensure the most vulnerable Medicare enrollees, including cancer patients, are able to access the drugs required to treat their disease. If these classes are changed or eliminated, Part D plans could exclude or restrict access to certain drugs as a means to reduce costs. Prescription drug indications vary widely and increasingly in cancer – with the development of precision medicine – drugs target specific mutations. Restricting formularies would leave out many unique drugs that have no alternative to treat distinct cancers. 

"Part D plans already have flexibility in how they cover drugs in the six protected classes and can use formulary tiers to negotiate better prices without jeopardizing patient access. While ACS CAN supports efforts to reduce beneficiaries' cost sharing for high-cost drugs, limiting access to potentially life-saving medications could significantly harm cancer patients. 

"The administration is also proposing to shift some drug coverage from Medicare Part B to Part D.  Currently some drugs, including cancer drugs, are covered under Part B because they need to be administered by a physician. It is unclear how these drugs would be managed in Part D without potentially risking patient safety.

"Moreover, moving some drug coverage to Part D is likely to significantly increase out-of-pocket costs for most cancer patients in Medicare. Supplemental Medicare plans—like Medigap—cover some or all of enrollees' co-insurance under Part B, but do not cover Part D expenses. Part D plans can also charge higher co-insurance for some drugs—up to 33 percent instead of the flat 20 percent under Part B. Moving prescription drug coverage from Part B to Part D may likewise increase Part D premiums as plans pass on the cost of covering more expensive drugs to consumers. 

"ACS CAN is pleased to see the administration is considering some important cost-saving measures proposed in the RFI and the blueprint that have the potential to reduce out-of-pocket costs for patients. ACS CAN supports including out-of-pocket caps on expenses in Part D. Right now, enrollees have no limit on the amount they may spend annually on prescription drugs, a situation that is especially challenging since the average Medicare enrollee lives on less than $30,000 a year. 

"Capping out-of-pocket costs in Part D is an issue of equity, as those under 65 with private insurance already have a limit on out-of-pocket costs they pay for drugs included on plan formularies. ACS CAN is calling on HHS Secretary Azar and Congress to work together to cap costs in the program in new national ads launched this week. 

"Other proposals that could help patients include allowing Medicare enrollees to use co-pay discount cards when generics or biosimilar drugs are unavailable, allowing pharmacists to tell patients when they could buy a drug for less without using their insurance, and eliminating cost sharing for generic drugs for certain low-income Medicare beneficiaries.

"Drug therapies play an integral role in cancer treatment. Providing access to affordable prescription drug therapies to all Americans, including those on Medicare, will be key to improving cancer outcomes and decreasing death and suffering from this disease." 

Read the full letter here.


  • NOVA video on grilling features tips from our nutritionist Colleen Doyle

    The PBS show NOVA has created a video with chef Scott Jones about the pitfalls of grilling food. He clearly likes his grilled meat - but he points out that when food is cooked at high temperatures carcinogenic compounds are formed. Bummer!

    If you've worked at ACS for any length of time, you probably already knew that. But, there are things you can do to reduce those compounds (and cancer risk), and that's where Colleen Doyle, our managing director, nutrition and physical activity, comes in. She offers these tips:

    • Precook your meat in the kitchen to cut down on the time it is on the hot grill 
    • Scrape charred bits off your grill before cooking (and scrape them off your meat before eating)
    • Trim the fat off the meat which is what drips on the coals and creates the unwanted smoke and flame.

    Learn more by watching the video now!

  • Help maintain your own online security – read our IT department's advice on safe use of passwords and usernames

    Life today seems to involve an ever-increasing number of passwords and usernames for the various sites, accounts, and online places we all have reason or need to visit. It can be overwhelming to keep track of them all and change them at the recommended intervals – even if we do understand the reason for passwords. 

    Unfortunately, breaches and attacks are all too common these days. When your data is involved in a breach, it can be released on the dark web and other foul places on the internet. Bad actors will then try combinations of usernames (often an email address) and passwords from the site they breached on other sites and platforms.

    For example, say you used the same password for LinkedIn and your personal email. If they accessed your login information from a LinkedIn breach, a bad actor could then log into your Yahoo or Gmail account and begin spamming emails using your account, tricking your family, friends and even strangers.

    In this month's security awareness article, Information Technology reminds us of the importance of using unique passwords and usernames for each site we visit, and to change our passwords at regular intervals.

    Using unique passwords across different sites makes it harder to hack your whole digital life. For the same reason, consider using unique usernames, rather than your email address, for important accounts like banking and credit cards. If you have trouble remembering all those usernames and passwords, many free and premium password managers like Dashlane and LastPass can help you keep track of your accounts across multiple devices.

    For particularly important accounts, like a social account you use to log into many places or an email account that is tied to your bank accounts, try using two-factor authenticationwhen available. Two-factor authentication requires that you confirm your identity by using something you know (a password) and a second factor other than something you have or something you are. You can also establish a customer-specific personal identification number (PIN) to help secure online access. These features are available for most banking sites and free email providers like Gmail, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

    Also, pick an interval of time at which you will change your passwords, and set a reminder on your calendar. Even once a year is better than never. Sometimes breach information is not published until years after the breach. If you have already changed your password, you have limited the damage. If you are lucky, you changed your password before anyone even bought it!

    If you want to check if your account info is for sale, security researcher Troy Hunt has set up a website,, that allows you to enter emails and usernames and check whether they appear on data breach lists.

    Using unique usernames and passwords are two ways to help protect yourself in this online world in which we live. 

  • Stakeholder nominations open to help guide research grant process

    Do you know anyone with a strong personal interest in cancer who would like to participate in our research and training grants peer review process? Maybe you?

    Candidates should have a strong personal interest in cancer research based on a personal connection to the disease, such as being a cancer survivor, having had a family member with cancer, or having acted as a caregiver.

    “Stakeholders” have been an important part of the Society’s grant review process since 1999, providing a unique perspective from the cancer experience to help ensure sound research funding decisions. Many of our most outstanding volunteers have served in this role.

    Being a Stakeholder requires no formal science or oncology training. About 12 to 15 stakeholders will be selected, and they will receive training before being assigned to one or more of the approximately 20 peer review committees in the Society’s Extramural Research Department. They will serve a two-year term beginning in June 2019.

    Stakeholders from various interest areas join clinicians, researchers, and other scientists to review the more than 1,300 applications submitted to the American Cancer Society each year. In addition to stakeholders, each committee includes five to 20 researchers, clinicians, and other experts.

    Stakeholder nominations will remain open now through September 14, 2018. Nominees will be asked to complete a short questionnaire and submit two letters of recommendation as part of the selection process. 

    Interested parties can learn more about the program at, or by emailing

  • Innovative chatbot technology implemented to increase HPV vaccine awareness

    The American Cancer Society is now using the tremendously popular Facebook Messenger to communicate with users in a new way. On July 18, the digital product team, led by Ben Kaplan and Heather Gresch, launched the ACS's first Facebook Messenger chatbot to educate parents on the importance of the HPV vaccine.

    A chatbot is a computer program powered by AI (artificial intelligence), and is used to automate specific tasks by chatting with a user over a conversational interface. The ACS chatbot has been designed to take the user through a guided learning experience to increase awareness and educate parents about the HPV vaccination as cancer prevention for their children. In addition, users are given the opportunity to get quick answers on how to make a donation, find information on various cancer types, chat with a live representative at NCIC, and more.

    This is important for ACS for a few reasons:

    • True Innovation – ACS is the first major healthcare nonprofit among our competitors to launch a chatbot on Facebook Messenger.
    • Digitizing our Mission – A strong collaboration among Cancer Control and the digital team afforded them the ability to lean in and truly start to understand how far digital tools can take the organization.
    • Consumer-First Mindset –  As the organization pushes to be more relevant in today's world, it is imperative to meet consumers where they engage daily. With Facebook being the most popular social network and Facebook Messenger having more than 1.2 billion active users, the digital team knew that Facebook would be the best platform to test on along with giving us the ability to communicate on an ongoing basis with large numbers of people.

    The team plans to review usage and engagement data over the next few weeks to determine if the chatbot's capabilities will be extended in the future for other campaigns. "We envision having a permanent chatbot on Facebook that answers basic cancer questions, while still allowing for real live chat and promotion of NCIC," said Ben.

    The chatbot is available on the American Cancer Society Facebook page. Users can access the bot on their mobile device by visiting the American Cancer Society Facebook page and clicking "Message." (Technically, the chatbot can be accessed through a desktop, but a mobile device provides the best user experience.)

  • House Energy and Commerce Committee approves palliative care bill

    On July 12, the House Energy and Commerce Committee marked up the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA). The bipartisan bill, which was unanimously approved by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health last month, would increase federal research funding for palliative care, including symptom and pain management, and would establish palliative care education and training programs for doctors, nurses and other health professionals. It would also create a national public education and awareness campaign to educate patients and providers about the availability and benefits of palliative care

    A statement from Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), follows:

    "Today's markup of the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) by the full House Energy and Commerce Committee is another step in the right direction as we work to improve the coordination of care and quality of life for cancer patients, survivors and others living with serious illnesses. Palliative care is a team-based approach focusing on the relief of pain and suffering for individuals living with serious illnesses that aims to provide an extra layer of support at any age or stage of illness and is often coupled with curative treatment. Evidence-based studies have demonstrated that high-quality palliative care not only improves quality of life and patient and family satisfaction, but can also prolong survival.

    "In coordination with the Patient Quality of Life Coalition (PQLC), which has membership of over 40 patient, provider and health system organizations, ACS CAN has led the charge to raise awareness about the critical need for greater patient access to palliative care services, including appropriate pain management. We strongly believe the PCHETA legislation will aid in this effort by investing in pain and symptom management training for health care providers while also bolstering federal pain research efforts at the National Institutes of Health.

    "With recently released data showing nearly half of cancer patients and more than half of those with other serious illnesses have experienced barriers to accessing needed pain medication in the last two years, Congress must address the misuse and abuse of prescription pain medications in a balanced way that preserves the ability of cancer patients and survivors to access necessary and appropriate pain care. The PCHETA legislation should be a part of that effort.

    "We're pleased to see the House Energy and Commerce Committee work in a bipartisan fashion to advance this important legislation. We commend Congressman Elliot Engel (D-NY), Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY), and Congressman Buddy Carter (R-GA) for championing the PCHETA legislation and thank Chairman Walden and Ranking Member Pallone for their leadership in advancing  this bill through committee with overwhelming bipartisan support. ACS CAN is calling on the full House of Representatives to follow suit and pass this bill on a bipartisan basis in a timely manner."

  • ACS CAN Board chair hospitalized after bike accident

    Richard Deming, MD, medical director of Mercy Cancer Center in Des Moines, Iowa, credits his helmet with saving his life.

    The ACS CAN Board chair and founder of Above and Beyond Cancer, the organization that takes cancer survivors across the world to climb mountains, was riding with a group of friends near Altoona when one cyclist ahead of him collided with another rider. He said the group was traveling nearly 30 mph when he crashed into the tangled bikes.

    He told a local TV news station: "I just went up over him and launched and landed head-first." He suffered some broken bones and a concussion. "If I weren't wearing a helmet, I wouldn't have survived the crash," he said.

    You can watch KCCI's interview with him in the hospital.

    Despite his injuries, Dr. Deming said he still plans to take a group of cancer survivors to Tibet in August. He said he's been training for the mountain climb by walking laps around the central desk in the ICU.

    You can read more about Dr. Deming here.

  • NOVA video on grilling features tips from our nutritionist Colleen Doyle

    ​The PBS show NOVA has created a video with chef Scott Jones about the pitfalls of grilling food. He clearly likes his grilled meat - but he points out that when food is cooked at high temperatures carcinogenic compounds are formed. Bummer!

    If you've worked at ACS for any length of time, you probably already knew that. But, there are things you can do to reduce those compounds (and cancer risk), and that's where Colleen Doyle, our managing director, nutrition and physical activity, comes in. She offers these tips:

    • Precook your meat in the kitchen to cut down on the time it is on the hot grill 
    • Scrape charred bits off your grill before cooking (and scrape them off your meat before eating)
    • Trim the fat off the meat which is what drips on the coals and creates the unwanted smoke and flame.

    Learn more by watching the video now!

  • Society publishes two new oncology textbooks

    The American Cancer Society recently published two new oncology textbooks. Ted Gansler, our strategic director, Pathology Research, served as lead editor to coordinate input from several ACS staff and volunteer leaders. The two titles are: Principles of Oncology: Prevention to Survivorship, about cancer epidemiology, biology, prevention, screening, and survivorship and Oncology in Practice: Clinical Management, which covers diagnosis and treatment of cancers.

    The textbooks are for sale on our publisher's website at (The text books are not available through the ACS bookstore on or through Society Mart.) 

    More about Principles of Oncology: Prevention to Survivorship 

    This book is an ideal resource for students, researchers, and clinicians seeking a deeper understanding of cancer biology, epidemiology, prevention, screening, and follow-up. You'll see many familiar names among the chapter authors. For instance, the "Screening and Early Detection" chapter is written by 
    Robert A. SmithOtis W. Brawley, and Richard C. Wender; "The Principles and Drivers of Cancer" is authored by Charles Saxe and William C. Phelps; "Descriptive Epidemiology" is written by Rebecca L. SiegelKimberly D. Miller, and Ahmedin Jemal; the "Environmental and Occupational Carcinogens" chapter is by Elizabeth Ward; "Fundamentals of Cancer Epidemiology" is written by Susan M. Gapstur and Eric J. Jacobs; and "Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention" is by Stacey FedewaRebecca L. Siegel, Colleen DoyleMarji L. McCullough, and Alpa V. Patel.

    More about Oncology in Practice: Clinical Management

    This new textbook was designed for a wide range of students and practitioners. It is a comprehensive reference covering the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, and a range of related issues that are key to a multidisciplinary approach to cancer and critical to cancer. There are chapters on thoracic, digestive, head and neck, urinary, female and male reproductive, breast, hematologic, skin, endocrine, nervous system and eye, and bone and soft issue cancers, as well as cancers with an unknown primary site. It is written by multidisciplinary teams of medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, and other specialists, reflecting day-to-day decision-making and clinical practice. Input from pathologists, radiologists, and other specialists and generalists is included wherever relevant. 

    These are not the first comprehensive oncology text books produced by ACS. They continue a tradition of 11 past titles dating back to 1963 that have guided and inspired generations of cancer care clinicians and researchers. You can see some of them in the smaller image here.

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