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Push for Marshalltown cancer treatment center to continue.

December 17, 2015

By BENNET GOLDSTEIN  Times-Republican 17 Dec 2015: A3

"Push for Marshalltown cancer treatment center to continue" 

Following a state board's denial of Central Iowa Healthcare's application to add a cancer treatment center in its Marshalltown facility, CEO John Hughes is hopeful a second hearing in 2016 may lead to a reverse decision.

If approved by the five-member Iowa Health Facilities Council, CIH would be granted a certificate of need, allowing health care providers to deliver radiation therapy alongside other cancer treatments.

Hughes said he plans to appear before the council, tentatively in July.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," he said.

In explaining their denial at CIH's November 2014 hearing, council members said they feared a Marshalltown facility would generate competition to the detriment of nearby treatment centers.

Hughes said he and the CIH board of trustees are prepared to respond to that objection.

"More than half the states don't have requirements for certificates of need for radiation therapy," he said. "Part of the reason is we think local communities should decide."

Hughes noted states that issue certificates of need, on average, have higher health care costs.

Two council members who voted against approving CIH's application are no longer seated, which may influence deliberations.

"We're hoping that with a new audience, we can make a fresh argument," he said.

Hughes is waiting until the summer to appear before the health council so he can see the outcome of a February hearing concerning Mercy Iowa City.

Mercy's application is opposed by the University of Iowa, which has a comprehensive cancer treatment center a short distance away, he said.

The situation resembles that which CIH faced in 2014.

"We're going to watch that hearing very closely and see if we can get any clues on how this board thinks about those things," Hughes said.

"There are two ways we can look at it. If they grant Mercy an application for the certificate, then we certainly have an argument to say there is precedent. And if they deny them, we'll understand the rationale and see if there is something we can do to appeal along those lines."

Hughes said he is impressed with the University of Iowa's operation, but he understands the "logic" of patient choice.

"Not all the patients that go to Mercy want to go to the University of Iowa," he said. "They go to Mercy for a reason. Either that is where their primary insurance is, or they like the care they get."

A former radiation therapist, Hughes said he believes care must be accessible.

He highlighted the about one-hour drive from Tama County to the closest cancer treatment centers in Cedar Rapids or Ames:

"A daily trip for six weeks for radiation therapy when you don't feel well - that's an insurmountable obstacle for some people," Hughes said. "Either economically or time wise. Not everyone has a job where if they take the morning off they still get paid."

A letter of intent has already been submitted to the council, he said. CIH's application is due 60 days before the hearing.

"Hopefully we can convince the board we are doing the right thing for the right reasons," Hughes said.

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