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Agreement opens access to cancer trials
There is cause for celebration for cancer patients who could benefit from participation in clinical trials.
A voluntary agreement with insurance companies announced May 18 at the Statehouse will ensure the coverage of routine care costs for patients enrolled in cancer clinical trials.
Unfortunately, clinical-trial participation rates among adult cancer patients have been traditionally low. One major barrier to increasing the participation rate is the potential for patients to lose insurance coverage for routine patient care when they enroll in a clinical trial—a barrier removed this month in South Carolina.
“Nationally, just three to five percent of cancer patients enroll in clinical trials, a low number that we believe is often due to reimbursement barriers,” said Andrew S. Kraft, M.D., director of the Hollings Cancer Center (HCC). “This agreement means that thousands of cancer patients can consider clinical trials as an option and not fear being denied because of the costs of standard procedures.”
Terri Matson, director of the Clinical Trials Office at HCC, said she worked alongside many non-profits, including the South Carolina Cancer Alliance and the American Cancer Society to advocate the importance of this issue and its potential impact to legislators.
As the only provider involved in the process, my role was largely to educate our legislators on what cancer clinical trials are and what they mean to the future of cancer care.  While MUSC paved the way, it is our hope that many other cancer-care providers will share in this wonderful benefit for all our patients throughout the state.”
Matson said the agreement was a monumental occasion that was five years in the making. One clinical trial alone could enroll as many as 5,000 to 6,000 cancer patients, she said. Cancer clinical trials are crucial in that they result in the next generation of treatments to fight cancer.
“I can’t imagine patients having a treatment option taken away because of the fear their insurance company won’t cover the routine costs, and they’ll be stuck with all the costs,” she said of her passion to see the agreement approved. “The concept of cancer clinical trials is to evaluate if one treatment is as good or hopefully better then the current ‘gold standard’ treatment—so to tell a cancer patient they don’t have access to what could potentially be better then the current standard is unimaginable.  If it were me, I would be furious, and no one should ever be in the position of having to make that decision.”
Effective July 1 patients will have the choice to participate in a clinical trial without the fear that their insurance provider will deny coverage for routine costs.
With this agreement, South Carolina will join the 32 other states with this continuation of care provision, she said. To date, four insurance providers have agreed to this coverage, which represents more than 90 percent of the population covered by third-party payers in the state. Participating in the agreement are members of the state Alliance of Health Plans, including BlueCross BlueShield, BlueChoice, Carolina Care Plan and UnitedHealthcare of the Carolinas.
Matson said the hope is to encourage more patients to consider participating in a clinical trial if that is a treatment option. “Nationally only 3 to 5 percent of cancer patients participate in cancer clinical trials and that is one main reason we haven’t progressed cancer treatment as quickly as we could have,” she said. “At Hollings Cancer Center, which of course is a National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Center, approximately 12 to 13 percent of our patients participate in cancer clinical trials and our vision is to increase that figure to 20 percent.”

For information on clinical trials, visit
or call 792-9321

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.