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Cancer society launches ads for health reform

By Mike Stobbe
AP Medical Writer

ATLANTA — The American Cancer Society this week will take its biggest step ever into the politics of health care reform, spending $15 million in advertising on behalf of Americans with too little health insurance or none at all.

The cancer society — the nationís richest health charity, in both donations and volunteers — traditionally focuses its advertising on encouraging Americans to quit smoking or get a screening test.

But this yearís campaign will feature television commercials that portray the challenges of uninsured and underinsured cancer patients, accompanied by a call for people to do something about it.

The change comes after cancer society officials concluded that insurance-related problems have emerged as one of the largest obstacles in their goal to cut cancer death rates by 50 percent and incidence rates by 25 percent from 1990 to 2015.

ďWeíre not going to meet our goals if the health care system remains unfixed,Ē said John Seffrin, the cancer societyís chief executive.

Starting Monday, three commercials on network and cable channels will run until Thanksgiving. Ads will be placed in magazines and on Web sites as well.

The cancer society is not endorsing any particular reform plan or candidate. Even so, itís an unusually pointed campaign for the philanthropy, and for organizations like it.

The American Heart Associationís chief executive, M. Cass Wheeler, envied the groupís resources and applauded its new campaign.

ďHeart and stroke patients are going to benefit from the good this advertising campaign is going to do,Ē Wheeler said. His organization spends $10 million each year on advertising, and focuses it on exercise and other prevention measures for patients.

The Atlanta-based cancer society, with 2006 revenues of $1 billion, has been stepping up its political activity in recent years.

In 2001, it formed a sister organization, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, to lobby and work on government health policy. The Cancer Action Network pushed for legislation that would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco, and last year fought a bill that would have enabled small businesses to form health insurance pools across state lines without guaranteeing coverage of certain cancer tests.

Now itís putting together petitions and votersí guides, organizing political forums and rallies, and in May, will begin a nationwide bus tour promoting health care reform.

Despite the fact that many cancer patients are 65 and older and are covered by the federal Medicare program, cancer society officials estimate that at least 55,000 of the 1.4 million people diagnosed with cancer each year have no health insurance.

Hundreds of thousands of others have coverage but end up financially distressed by uncovered bills, they say.

Inadequate coverage is a major impediment to cancer patients getting the medical care they need. Studies show that women with health insurance get annual mammograms at twice the rate as women who donít, and cancer death rates are higher for people without coverage.

Joining for rallies

The cancer society joined the heart association, the American Diabetes Association and the American Association of Retired Persons in leading rallies designed to get the attention of presidential candidates. The rallies were held in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — four early sites of key presidential primaries and caucuses — and all focused on the general issue of providing quality health care for all Americans.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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