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Cancer Network Left Out of Share in Tobacco Taxes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With $3 million in state tobacco tax revenue being doled out Tuesday by county supervisors, a group of local cancer doctors figured they were in for a share.

After all, the oncologists reasoned, surely some part of the money raised by taxing the sales of a known carcinogen would be funneled back into fighting cancer.

But the doctors, who appeared before the County Board of Supervisors seeking $1 million to reimburse doctors who treat patients too poor to pay for their services, were rebuffed.

Without commenting on the doctors’ plea, the supervisors unanimously voted to distribute the tobacco tax money to an array of county physician networks, clinics and hospitals that care for indigent patients. The Orange County Cancer Care Network did not make the cut.

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“It is the height of irony,” said Dr. Jacques Souadjian, a Tustin oncologist and chairman of the network. “We’re not going to take this lying down, even if it means going to the governor himself. He will understand that money raised from a substance that causes cancer should help to fight cancer.”

County officials sharply disputed the suggestion that the board’s action will prevent indigent cancer patients from sharing in the program’s benefits.

Ronald DiLuigi, assistant director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, praised the cancer network’s goals.

But he said it did not receive this money because county officials were hoping to give money to groups that link the services of hospitals, clinics and physicians’ networks.

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By providing money to those linked services, those patients receive continuity of care, he said.

Many of the applications for money were excellent, he said, but the cancer network’s “simply didn’t measure up.”

According to Souadjian and other network supporters, however, the program would improve cancer treatment for indigent patients dramatically by providing money to reimburse doctors for treatment.

The result, supporters of the idea say, is that indigent patients would receive the same cancer care as wealthier, insured people.

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Local representatives of the American Cancer Society helped bring the network together and supported the grant request. They too were disappointed by Tuesday’s action.

“We definitely would like to have seen some of that money go toward cancer,” said Bruce Vancil, assistant director of community services for the society’s Orange County unit. “It’s desperately needed.”

DiLuigi did not argue with the need for more cancer care for indigents but said the county is already helping to pay for cancer treatment. Much of the money allocated Tuesday is targeted for reimbursement of general medical care, including cancer, he said.


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