Thursday, September 3, 2015

Aging increase causes spread of medical facilities

What's behind boom in cancer centers across U.S.? Answer: 'silver tsunami' and money

A cancer center building boom is spreading across the country, according to a story this week in the Washington Post by Brady Dennis.

The piece reports the American Cancer Society as saying "more than 1.6 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer this year," and goes on to suggest "the number is certain to rise with the aging of the baby boom generation."

A steady population increase among the elderly means "a push to bring the latest specialized treatments and access to more clinical trials to patients who don't live near major academic research centers," the article states.

Voila! The national building boom.

Furthermore, the piece notes that because "medical advances are allowing more people to live longer with cancer and, in some case, to treat it as a chronic disease…there is fierce competition among hospitals searching for reliable revenue in a rapidly changing health-care landscape."

There remain many skeptics in the medical community, however, those who contend the label cancer center can easily be applied by virtually any facility and, therefore, "doesn't guarantee that each place will have doctors with deep expertise, a track record of good outcomes or credentials such as a National Cancer Institute designation as a top-notch center."
Dr. Peter Bach
Daniels' article quotes, for instance, Dr. Peter Bach, an oncologist and director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at New York's famed Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Bach, whose wife, Ruth, died a few years back when her breast cancer recurred and metastasized, says his concern is that an average patient could have difficulty determining where to get "high-quality care when the market is flooded with places claiming to be cancer centers."

The Washington Post piece also says that "it remains unclear whether the proliferation of cancer centers…will lead to more tests, surgeries and mediations being billed to Medicare, private insurers and patients."

An outgrowth of the rise in the aging population, according to the story, is that well-known institutions — such as Sloan Kettering or Baltimore's Johns Hopkins — "are forming alliances with smaller hospitals in an effort to extend their brands, in some cases around the country and the globe."

The Post quotes Patrick Duke, managing director for a consulting group that advises hospitals about real estate projects, CBRE Healthcare, to the effect that the economics of cancer treatment "are good. That's a touchy subject for some people, but it's the reality…The procedures and the drugs are well reimbursed. It's a big business."

Is the boomer concept real?

Seven years ago, when I, Woody Weingarten, served on the Marin County Civil Grand Jury, I was repeatedly told our area was being inundated by a "silver tsunami." The truth of that became evident as I opened my eyes and saw who was driving on our highways, walking on our streets.

Clearly, the longer folks last, the greater chance there is for them to contract a life-threatening disease. My VitalityPress book, "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," whose aim is helping male caregivers, discusses the aging population, medical care in general and breast cancer care in particular, and high medical costs.

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