Cancer Funding Gets Grass-Roots Effort

By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, September 21, 2006

The march on Washington this week of an estimated 10,000 cancer patients, survivors and family members seemed to be the culmination of a campaign in recent years by the American Cancer Society to kick up its advocacy efforts for increased federal support for cancer research, prevention and care.

Daniel E. Smith , national vice president for government relations, said it was both a "culmination and a beginning."

"It is important to begin to show Congress that there is a national grass-roots movement. . . . We want a new 'War on Cancer,' " Smith said, referring to President Richard M. Nixon's declaration of "War on Cancer" in 1971.

The "Celebration on the Hill 2006" actually was sponsored by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the "sister advocacy organization" of the Cancer Society. Although ACS CAN does not endorse candidates, it may lobby and run issue and voter education campaigns to support legislation and policies. And hold lawmakers accountable, Smith said.

On Tuesday night, ACS CAN hosted a fundraiser -- special guests: Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich -- that brought in at least $30,000 from a silent auction to help fund its advocacy efforts.

ACS CAN wielded the political power of grass-roots advocacy yesterday. Besides taking over the Mall with banners, state tents and activities, the group sent 4,000 specially trained "ambassadors" -- cancer survivors, patients and others -- to meet with members of Congress.

They asked lawmakers to increase the National Cancer Institute's budget by at least 5 percent and to fully fund the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

The advocates also asked lawmakers to sign a pledge to support a legislative agenda to promote prevention, early detection, research and expanded access to care.

ACS CAN, Smith said, will work in the next Congress to get that agenda passed.

Family Doctors Also Being Heard

The American Academy of Family Physicians, which established a political action committee a year ago, also is stepping up its advocacy efforts.

On Wednesday, 2,000 family doctors are expected on the Hill to express their concerns about the uninsured, the need for medical liability legislation and Medicare reimbursements.

"It's time for the country to address the problems of health care," said the academy president, Larry S. Fields , a family doctor from Kentucky.

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