NOAH ADAMS, host:
The American Cancer Society is drastically changing its advertising strategy. It's decided to ditch the usual commercials that urge people to quit smoking or get regular screenings. Instead, it's going to focus on something the society sees as a much bigger enemy in the fight against cancer.
(Soundbite of an advertisement)
Unidentified Man: This is what a health care crisis looks like to the American Cancer Society - people with cancer but without insurance, countless others with insurance just not enough to cover something as devastating as cancer.
ADAMS: And so the entire $15-million advertising budget is devoted to showcasing the pitfalls of inadequate health care. The ads begin airing next week.
To talk with us about the change in strategy is the CEO of the American Cancer Society John Seffrin joining us from Atlanta, Georgia. Welcome, sir.
Dr. JOHN SEFFRIN (CEO, American Cancer Society): Thank you. It's good to be here.
ADAMS: Did you have big fights and discussions around the conference table deciding this?
Dr. SEFFRIN: We actually had no fights, much to my surprise, but we had lots of discussion. We took our time, we did our analysis, we looked at the data, and it became clear that lack of access to timely and adequate health care has now become the major cause of cancer deaths in America. We were advertising to get people and do the colonoscopy, just as you mentioned, or to stop smoking.
And the truth is, is that many people said, we couldn't get in to get it done or it costs too much, I couldn't afford it or my insurance didn't cover it. So we began looking into it, and sure enough, more than race ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, it's whether you're covered with insurance that most correlates to excess cancer mortality in America.
ADAMS: $50-million advertising budget directed at what part of the American society? Who are you talking to here?
Dr. SEFFRIN: We're talking to all of America with a hope that we can raise awareness levels and people will say, you know, that's - there's something wrong with the health care system where someone can't get the care they need when they've got cancer. And the hope is, is that will raise the bar and it will begin to get all serious candidates running for office, particularly for president of the United States, to make it a priority to fix the broken health care system.
ADAMS: So politicians as well as physicians and people voting?
Dr. SEFFRIN: Yes, and rank-and-file people.
ADAMS: Let's take a low-income worker in line for a job, finds out the job doesn't health insurance, turns away knowing full well the next person's got to take that job. What are they going to do?
Dr. SEFFRIN: I think they take the job. That's why I think we have to fix the system. We have to find a way that every man, woman and child in America has access to our health care system. That doesn't necessarily mean a single pair of system, but we need to talk about what kinds of ways that we could go to move to cover everybody because, if we do, we can get dramatically positive results. And, if we don't, we're going to see a disaster on ruling as a large and growing number of people are suffering and dying needlessly from this disease.
We've made such progress over the past 50 years that the vast majority of all people who get cancer can be saved. Many cured, most cancer can be prevented, and yet more and more people are dying needlessly because they simply don't have access to our broken health care system.
ADAM: A year from now, how will you be able to tell that you've been successful with the shift in strategy?
Dr. SEFFRIN: One metric that I intend to use is to see if every serious candidate for the top office of this land has said that doing something about the access to health care issue will be a major priority of his or her administration.
ADAM: Has anybody said that though?
Dr. SEFFRIN: In one way or another a number of them have. I'm not sure all of them have, as yet. But now, the American Cancer Society has a sister organization called the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, ACS CAN, and it's a 501(c)(4) organization. So we cannot only ask them, but we can tell people what they said. So our hope is that we can hold people accountable.
ADAM: John Seffrin, the CEO of the Atlanta-based American Cancer Society, talking with us from the studios of Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Thank you, sir.
Dr. SEFFRIN: You're welcome.