Cancer Society Veers to the Left: a "Nonpartisan" Tilt?

On the front page of Friday's Times,correspondent Kevin Sack reported that "In a stark departure from past practice, the American Cancer Society plans to devote its entire $15 million advertising budget this year not to smoking cessation or colorectal screening but to the consequences of inadequate health coverage."

Another, more colorful way of reporting that would be to suggest that the Cancer Society folks have decided to start fighting cancer by lobbying for socialized medicine. They're politicizing cancer. If fighting for cancer and socialized medicine is the same fight, then anyone who opposes socialized medicine is suddenly in danger of being characterized as soft on cancer.

Think of the many cancer survivors and their families who participate in a Relay for Life or other fundraisers for the ACS. Don't you think that at least some of those people would be offended that the funds they raised are being used for socialized-medicine lobbying? But the New York Times story doesn't include that angle at all. There's no conservative expert to question how the ACS isn't looking "nonpartisan" here, they're looking like the Hillary Clinton health care task force. Conservative groups like the Capital Research Center have long identified the ACS and other health research charities as engaged in liberal lobbying efforts.

Instead, the New York Timesdeclared that these ads are "nonpartisan," not liberal: "Though the advertisements are nonpartisan and pointedly avoid specific prescriptions, they are intended to intensify the political focus on an issue that is already receiving considerable attention from presidential candidates in both parties." The ad scripts themselves sound like they would be music to the ears of liberals:

One features images of uninsured cancer patients, appearing hollow and fearful. "This is what a health care crisis looks like to the American Cancer Society," the narrator begins. "We're making progress, but it's not enough if people don't have access to the care that could save their lives."

The other commercial depicts a young mother whose family has gone into debt because her insurance did not fully cover her cancer treatment. "Is the choice between caring for yourself and caring for your family really a choice?" the narrator asks.

ACS chief executive John Seffrin is blunt with the Times, that the lack of government-mandated access to insurance is killing people: "I believe, if we don't fix the health care system, that lack of access will be a bigger cancer killer than tobacco," he told the newspaper. "The ultimate control of cancer is as much a public policy issue as it is a medical and scientific issue."

Sack reported that, unsurprisingly, other health charities support the new liberal lobbying campaign: "But the leaders of several such organizations, including the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and the Alzheimers Association, said they applauded the campaign's message that progress against chronic disease would be halting until the country fixed its health care system."

He also noted this lobbying is all the rage in the medical community:

Advertising about the health insurance crisis is not uncommon among more broadly based medical organizations and other interest groups.

Last week, the American Medical Association kicked off a three-year campaign called "Voice for the Uninsured" that will begin with $5 million in advertising in early primary states. AARP, in conjunction with the Business Roundtable and the Service Employees International Union, recently began a similar effort called "Divided We Fail."

This year, the cancer society formed a collaborative with the heart, diabetes and Alzheimers associations, as well as AARP, to promote awareness of the health access problem. The group adopted as common principles that all Americans deserve quality, affordable health care with transparent costs.

You have to go deep into the story, to paragraph 24, for the notion of any dissent to this campaign to emerge:

Cancer society executives said they had heard little dissent from volunteers and donors, and several regional officials said they supported the new approach.

But others called the campaign misguided. Valerie C. Robinson, a longtime board member of the Jacksonville, Fla., chapter, said expanded access to insurance coverage was "not our fight."

"To me, it's throwing away money that we could have put into providing free mammograms or free PSA tests or free colonoscopies," she said.

Just before that, Sack added that the ACS could have some trouble with the tax laws on this campaign, that it's "risky business" for the tax-exempt group. ACS vice president Greg Donaldson agreed:

It steered away, he said, from promoting solutions that could be viewed as partisan, like mandatory insurance or single-payer government coverage. Rather, he said, the commercials are intended to urge action by the next administration, and to drive viewers to a Web site linked to the group's advocacy and lobbying arm.

"We very much see a moral imperative to raising the discussion," Mr. Donaldson said, "but we understand there's a need to be appropriate."