WASHINGTON: With the release of a new survey on the impact that proposed Medicare-reimbursement changes will have on cancer drugs, Ketchum has found itself on both sides of a hot issue.At least one public interest group is calling for an investigation into what it calls a "blatantly unethical" conflict of interest. Ketchum's clients include both the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which sets payment levels for drugs and other treatments, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which opposes some of the proposed cuts. A survey released Wednesday by the cancer doctors' group found that, with the reimbursement cuts, clinics will be unable to cover costs for one in four cancer drugs. CMS is defending the cuts. Jenny Heumann, ASCO's senior public affairs manager, defended the group's 5-month-old relationship with Ketchum. "It's not too uncommon for a PR firm to have lots of different clients," she said. "They have lots of clients in healthcare." She added that ASCO and CMS have a "common goal" of improving cancer care. CMS did not immediately return a call for comment. "Both of our clients are working together on the Medicare Modernization Act," said Robyn Massey, Ketchum's VP of corporate media relations. "Neither of them is considering it a conflict of interest." Heumann noted that ASCO is working with Ketchum to "educate Congress, to educate the public, and to educate the media" on its policy positions. But Public Interest Watch, a watchdog group for the abuse of public funds, has written to the US Department of Health and Human Services, requesting an investigation into what it calls a "conflict of interest." "We believe that Ketchum's conduct is unacceptable, and that ASCO's decision to retain Ketchum appears to be a premeditated attempt to corrupt the integrity of the legislative process and to waste taxpayer money," interim executive director Lewis Fein wrote. The group on Thursday distributed the press release to the media. The Public Relations Society of America's Code of Ethics states that "members should avoid real, potential, or perceived conflicts of interest." When such conflicts exist -or appear to exist - the code recommends full disclosure, said Dave Rickey, chairman of PRSA's Board of Ethics and Professional Standards.
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