As the 2008 Presidential candidates offer up their plans for health reform, it’s interesting to watch where stakeholder interests are lining up. No doubt we will see version 2.0 of Harry and Louise soon from the insurance industry. The pharmaceutical lobby represented by PhRMA has already published PR on the positive role of Medicare Part D covering drugs for older Americans, some positive spin supporting the industry’s good works.

There’s a new stakeholder taking an early, assertive stance in the health reform debate: the American Cancer Society. It’s as if the ACS anticipates the entrance of Harry and Louise, Jr., onto the PR scene, and wants to get out in front of then.

In its 94 years of existence, the American Cancer Society has been politicaly neutral. No longer. ACS will devote its entire $15 million advertising budget to the cause of patient access. The organization’s ads don’t advocate for one party, but instead focus on the message of covering the uninsured, and filling gaps for insureds when their insurance doesn’t provide comprehensive coverage.

ACS CEO John Seffrin notes in a press release, “I believe, if we don’t fix the health care system, that lack of access will be a bigger cancer killer than tobacco. The ultimate control of cancer is as much a policy issue as it is a medical and scientific issue.”

There are several reasons for ACS to get into the debate now. One in five families with cancer max out their benefits and have been unable to get all the treatment they require. Cancer drugs fall into the specialty and/or biotech tiers of pharmaceutical insurance coverage, usually requiring higher co-payments, coinsurance, and/or extremely high out-of-pocket costs if the drugs aren’t on the patient’s formulary.

ACS also knows that uninsured people often get a cancer diagnosis late — sometimes, too late — to cure because they postpone seeing doctors when early symptoms appear, or they don’t go for routine screenings due to cost.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: The more stakeholder groups who engage in the health reform debate, the better. It is good to see patient advocates come to the table. Cancer impacts most American families, so this campaign should get lots of empathy from the public. In getting their political message ‘out there,’ ACS could be starting a new trend in once-politically neutral non-profits putting their scarce resources (i.e., budgets) on the line for a health insurance message–not a strictly political one.

Sources: American Cancer Society (