What’s driving the cancer care wars in Baton Rouge?

Monday’s announcement by Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center that it is developing a new $100 million cancer institute raises a lot of questions about the future of the cancer care market in Baton Rouge.

  • What will the new facility, which seeks to become a regional cancer care center, mean to Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, which recently announced it was ending its long-standing affiliation with OLOL to partner with OneOncology, a national network of independent providers?
  • What will it mean to Baton Rouge General’s Pennington Cancer Center—which recently announced MBPCC and its affiliated oncology practice, Louisiana Hematology and Oncology Associates, are expanding to the BRG Bluebonnet campus?
  • With Ochsner and another well-established and independent oncology practice, Hematology Oncology Clinic, also vying for local market share, will there be enough to go around?
  • And, what will the competition, duplicative services and new brick-and-mortar all do to the cost of cancer care in Baton Rouge?

While it’s too soon to answer those questions, the recent developments can be explained, in part, by a couple of national trends in cancer care, according to national health care expert Paul Keckley.

  • Unlike, say, labor and delivery, which is a break even or perhaps money loser, oncology, with its high-priced immunotherapies and drugs is lucrative for doctors and hospitals, which can bill not only for the infusion services but for related activities associated with it.
  • Demand on the oncology side is fairly predictable and the incident rates of cancer have continued to increase.

“It’s not as if cancer is going away,” says the Nashville-based Keckley, who publishes The Keckley Report online.  “So the fact you have increased utilization and demand and new therapies is a pretty good combination.”

There’s another factor, too: New therapies are making significant inroads in cancer treatment.

“Cancer, which was a death sentence 20 years ago, is now very often a chronic condition, unless you’re dealing with late-stage undetected cancer,” Keckley says. “So you’re seeing this whole area of oncology becoming this interesting entrepreneurial frontier of selling hope, selling alternative methods of care. You’ll hear a lot of whole-person care, changing your diet, changing your lifestyle.”

All of which helps explain the investments and realignments in the local market of late, though it’s still unclear whether new brick-and-mortar, like OLOL’s planned cancer institute, really makes sense.

Keckley says he cannot say without knowing more about the project in particular.

It is worth noting that Louisiana does not have a federally designated comprehensive cancer center, of which there are 71 in 36 states that are recognized by the National Cancer Institute for research and cutting-edge treatment.

Building a new facility and calling it an institute will not make it a prestigious CCC, at least not automatically, though it might be an important step toward earning the federal distinction.

At the same time, Keckley says there are some indications nationally that the future trend will be away from large in-patient treatment centers and toward at-home therapeutics.

“What is unknown is how much the NIH will drive us toward more personalized therapeutics,” he says. “You have a lot of refocus of cancer care into home-based settings and if you think about it, if we’re able to do renal dialysis at home, doing cancer care at home my also make sense.”