The Power To Regulate Healthcare is the Power to Destroy It

Regulations have destroyed cancer research.

On Aug. 2, 2009, the New York Times reported that the government's "war on cancer" isn't going particularly well:

Forty years after President Richard M. Nixon declared war on cancer, death rates have barely changed.

Cancer researchers will tell you that people are surviving longer after being diagnosed with cancer, but that doesn't mean that cancer can be cured, nor even that treatment is necessarily helping.  If medical tests for cancer, far more common these days for the most common cancers, detect illness earlier than they used to, people will live longer after the cancer is detected but they won't die any later than they would have died if the cancer had never been found.

During the 2008 meeting of the President's Cancel Panel, Dr. Scott Ramsey gave his view of the reason why so little progress was being made:

The biggest barrier, in his opinion, was that almost no adult cancer patients - just 3 percent - participate in studies of cancer treatments, mostly new drugs or drug regimens.

There are more than 6,500 cancer clinical trials seeking adult patients, according to, a trials registry. But many will be abandoned along the way. More than one trial in five sponsored by the National Cancer Institute failed to enroll a single subject, and only half reached the minimum needed for a meaningful result, Dr. Ramsey and his colleague John Scoggins reported in an editorial in the September 2008 issue of The Oncologist.

Part of the reason most oncologists steer clear of drug trials is money.  When doctors treat a patient with an approved chemotherapy drug, they get reimbursed more than the drug actually costs and the difference adds to their bottom line.

If the patient is in a trial, on the other hand, the patient gets the drug free from the sponsor.  There's no markup by the doctor so he makes nothing.

There's also a great deal of paperwork associated with a drug trial, and there may be legal liabilities if things don't work out well.  For many doctors, the extra costs, the paperwork, and the risks of getting sued are simply not worth it.

This isn't the only article on the subject.  On Aug. 7, 2009, the Times reported that even though the "stimulus" added $8.2 billion to the NIH research budget, any research that involves human volunteers faces other obstacles from federal ethics regulations.

No one denies the need to shield human subjects from undue risk. But current regulations have become so stringent and unwieldy that the ethics oversight system often impedes the kind of careful research we should be promoting. As two highly regarded medical ethicists, Dr. Norman Fost of the University of Wisconsin and Dr. Robert J. Levine of Yale, put it in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the system regulating the use of human subjects is "increasingly dysfunctional."

What's going on here?  Progress in cancer treatment has ground to a halt for want of people to participate in clinical trials.  Other research is being held back:

Some scientists deliberately design their studies more conservatively than they would like in order to placate fastidious review boards. Onerous paperwork regularly delays projects for months and inflates costs. A report last year in the journal Science warned that such paperwork is at "risk of pricing large clinical trials out of reach."

Stanford University researchers have estimated that it cost them about $56,000 in administrative wages, 18 months of delay and 10,000 pages of paper to make a small change to an already-approved research program that simply compared the progress made by patients attending different types of addiction-treatment programs. [emphasis added]

The Times has noticed that government regulations are pushing up the cost of research and, in many cases, wasting the money.  Both of the Times articles pointed out that about one-third of cancer trials are abandoned before they're completed.  What a lot of our money down the drain!

If the government can't manage the power we've let it assume over medical research, how do we expect bureaucrats to handle the power they want to give themselves over medical practice?  Remember, if your doctor sees any Medicare patients, he's not allowed to give a treatment that's not approved by Medicare, even if you're willing to pay.

What's going to happen if the medical board tells your doctor that it's too bad that the approved drug didn't work, that's the procedure, and you simply can't have any other treatment?

Medicare reimbursements are already so low they don't cover costs; that's why a lot of doctors won't take Medicare patients.  Mr. Obama is talking of taking billions in "waste and fraud" out of Medicare.

Since they can't cut rates any further, the only way to cut costs will be to give fewer treatments.  How does it help society to give health insurance to people who don't have it if you then deny treatment to people who've already paid for it?

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments
Obama knows that Medicare isn't the optimal program even though he promotes it as an example of government success with healthcare. Consider, studies have shown that expanding Medicare to the 30-40 million uninsured would cost one tenth (10%) of the cost of the Health Reform bills currently Congress. One not simple do that? Because they know that Medicare is a bad model - lots of fraud, doctors hate it, patients once on it are stuck with it.
October 30, 2009 2:26 PM
Here's something the 'cancer' research people have known since Richard Nixon made his announcement.
October 30, 2009 2:59 PM
Either SIRJASON has a sense og humor that is a bit to subtle for me, or he's a spammer. Take your pick.

Great article by the way. I find it surprising that anyone would be surprised to discover everything the government touches, from Bangalore to Bagram turns to... well, not gold.
October 30, 2009 6:18 PM
Scragged is right, of course. There is only one way to 'fix' the health care system.

Put a price on human life. The left (largely liberal arts majors in school) don't see it, but Brittan, lauded for their socialized medicine, already has. There is a limit to the amount of money you can soak the system for to preserve your life.

It is in the nature of humans to try to get as much as we can. For example, if you have a baby and that baby has massive medical problems, you want to get as much medical care as you can. EVEN IF THAT CHILD IS NOT GOING TO SURVIVE A YEAR. That is only one prong of the pitch fork that the 'devil' called 'health care' prods us with. Another is prescription drugs, MOST of which do nothing positive and have far worse side-effects than the disease or chronic condition they are meant to treat.

People with inherited diabetes having babies. That should be considered a crime against humanity. I have a cousin who married a type I diabetic (childhood diabetic), and they have three children! Let's celebrate! OK, fine. They have gone forth and multiplied. But statistically, it is very likely at least one (and possibly all) of those children are carrying the potential to pass this on to THEIR children. Not only that, a diabetic having children puts an enormous strain on the body. So? You get, tra-lah! A pancreas/kidney transplant! Yeppers. That's what has happened for my Lucky Cousins! Not only have they presented society with potential problems in the future, they have cost the system an enormous amount of money to keep 'mommy' alive. This is the scenario in Steel Magnolias...

Yet another tine on that pitch-fork is expensive and largely, useless tests. Colonoscopies! Since mammograms have been show to be possibly quite harmful for a majority of the women who get them. (Great idea flashing x-rays through breast tissue, isn't it?) And do they 'help women live longer'? I am not so sure that is true. As Scragged has said, if you find something earlier, you get more time living with that disease, but is the end time moved at all? Or is it just more opportunity to treat this disease (meaning more doctors get to plunder this new source of income). I don't know. I just don't know. I don't have access to the data. But there is growing evidence that it is all too true. There are two forms of breast cancer. Lumps you find that can be excised, and metastasized cancer - and you are already dead. But they don't tell you that. They just start chopping you up, piecemeal. All the Medical Vampires get to share in that 'meal'. Wow, let's lop off a breast. When it shows up somewhere else, we'll pass her on to the next surgeon in line!

Anybody not seen that happen?

Like it or not, we cannot pay for every single genetic disaster born to woman. We cannot 'prevent' nor cure all cancers.
October 31, 2009 10:03 AM
I need to add that I did my post doc stint at NIH in statistics. I know something of what I speak.

I was in a hurry, and I did not make my case clear, not just Type I diabetics breeding, by people carrying KNOWN problems, such as cystic fibrosis.... There are a lot of these problems and perhaps gene therapy, in the future will cure them. But will that new 'therapy' then strap the system to the limit? Who can predict.

But I hope that I made my case that the medical community feeds on disease. Particularly cancer. Without a doubt most doctors really think they are doing the right thing, but are they? Doctors are NOT scientists. Doctors are purveyors of doctrine. Their appeal to authority is so complete that something right under their nose can be ignored...

What is under their nose? Listen honey. MOST cancers require high blood sugar to spread. They have a much more vast need of nutrients than the surrounding tissues. The blood supply surrounding these carcinomas are huge

Diabetics get cancer at an alarmingly high rate. Particularly diabetics who refuse to control their blood sugar. These same diabetics die of all of the current Cash Cow chronic diseases for which pharmaceutical companies churn out drugs and amass large profits.

Heart Disease
High Blood Pressure (and all attendant problems)

The list goes on and on and on....

Control your blood sugar and you are on your way to controlling your health.

October 31, 2009 10:13 AM
anonymous chicken, thank you for your informed insights into the statistics of health. I hope to see many more posts from you in the future.
October 31, 2009 11:51 AM
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