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February 07. 2012 11:47PM

NH hospital officials blast for-profit cancer center bill

CONCORD — Representatives of the state's major hospitals fought a proposal that could pave the way for a for-profit cancer facility to come to the state at a hearing Tuesday that was notable for the absence of the company that was the impetus for the legislation: Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA).

The bill, HB 1642, would create a special “destination cancer hospital” classification, which would be exempt from the state's Certification of Need review process for new hospitals, as well as the Medicaid Enhancement Tax on the grounds that it wouldn't accept Medicaid patients.

CTCA is eyeing southern New Hampshire for its first facility in New England. The company operates centers in Illinois, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma.

Bill backers noted that it was discovered that CTCA, and any other facility like it, would have scant chance of being approved under the existing state Certification of Need (CON) review for new hospitals.

In testimony before the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee on Tuesday, House Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, called the CON process “anti- competitive,” and added, “a bigger, fundamental flaw in the CON set-up is that it fails to consider that New Hampshire would ever be a state that could attract individuals to come here to receive care from beyond our borders.”

Under the bill, 65 percent of CTCA patients would have to come from out of state.

While the bill has the support of the House leadership, backers were far outnumbered at the hearing by executives, doctors and other representatives of the state's major hospitals, along with their lobbyists, who formed a line out the door of the committee room.

“We oppose this bill for two main reasons,” said Dr. Alan Hartford, the chief of radiation oncology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.” The need for comprehensive quality cancer care is already available in New Hampshire, and we take care of patients regardless of their ability to pay.”

He added, “The current regulatory process is serving New Hampshire well.”

The hospital representatives also noted that by potentially siphoning off up to 35 percent of patients with the means and insurance to cover its treatment, CTCA would significantly affect its ability to treat all patients and to support cancer research.

“Dartmouth-Hitchcock operates on the slimmest of margins,” Hartford said.

Another doctor, Patrick Clary, who operates New Hampshire Palliative Care Service in Portsmouth, testified that he had treated CTCA patients after they were discharged with terminal cancer. He said he believed the center offered false hope and that its quality of care was “an issue.”

“They offer the promise of the Hail Mary pass,” he said. “The last thing this state needs is a for-profit hospital for cancer patients.

We've heard about people flying to Mexico for unproven treatments — with this, they'll be able to just go to Manchester.”

There was no one from CCTA to directly respond to these claims, a fact that frustrated some of the committee members at the hearing.

Bill sponsors defended CTCA's quality of the care, citing a first -hand look in a recent visit to a CTCA hospital in Philadelphia.

Airfare for that trip for five lawmakers was covered by the company.

In its promotional materials, CTCA says that it's at “the leading edge of cancer treatment with (a) personalized, whole-person care model.”

The main sponsor of the bill, Marilinda Garcia, R-Salem, said it wasn't necessary for company representatives to be at the hearing since “the purpose of the legislation is not to take action for one company. The point is to create new opportunities to grow the economy and create more treatment options.”

The hearing will be continued on Thursday, when the bill could go straight to executive session for a vote.

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