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Moffitt state funds remain in the hands of the Legislature

The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center may see its biomedical research budget cut completely for the 2011-12 fiscal year due to current bills circulating in the state Legislature.

While Moffitt’s annual revenue is about $700 million, generated mostly from patients, they also receive state funding in the form of allocated funds for research, oncology training and construction and expansion projects. The potential budget cuts would impact all three areas.

A House bill, HB 5303, aims to take the funding that would originally go to Moffitt’s cancer research and appropriate it to Medicaid instead.

Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, said Medicaid must be budgeted for, but research funding cannot be ignored, as it is a partial solution to handling Medicaid costs.

“Medicaid is becoming an increasingly burdensome part of that (state) budget,” he said. “With that said, I think we have to be very, very, very cautious to not balance today’s budget on the backs of tomorrow’s. I think preventative care research innovation can help us control the cost of Medicaid as we move down the line and in the future.”

The research money helps Moffitt fund their cancer research protocol, Total Cancer Care, which attempts to specify cancer care to an individual basis, among other significant projects geared toward providing the best possible patient care, he said.

“(The Legislature was) reserving $50 million for research,” he said. “It was the right choice then, and it’s the right choice now. The state needs to help fund research programs like King and Bankhead-Coley and Moffitt, so that we can find cures and treatments for diseases that will actually reduce the cost of health care In the future. That’s a worthy investment for the state.”

Moffitt’s Vice President of Government Relations Jamie Wilson said the research was funded by a separate cigarette surcharge. This fund collects a $1 surcharge for every pack of cigarettes sold in Florida for a state fund allocated toward research of nicotine-related illnesses.

Wilson said the Senate is also proposing a cut in higher education funds, which would leave Moffitt with $5.44 million for oncologist training instead of the usual $10.8 million.

“We received $10.8 million last year, so the Senate is just kind of cutting our funding in half,” he said. “The House, for us, has a much better position right now.”

Wilson said the House bill recommends an appropriation of $9.6 million toward the higher education budget. Differences in the House and Senate’s proposed plan will be resolved during meetings with a joint conference committee to create the overall budget.

Wilson said Moffitt trains more people in the field of cancer research than all Florida cancer centers combined. The $10.8 million spent on oncologist training, he said, was a positive investment for Florida.

“When it comes to the three areas that Moffitt receives funding from the state for, the return on investment from that is internally high,” he said. “For this year (an annual report prepared by an outside auditor) showed for every dollar we received in state funding last year, Moffitt returned $2.45 to the state‘s local governments.”

Wilson said that figure is measured by the tax dollars Moffitt employees pay to the local government.

Moffitt has already maxed out its space for patients, he said, at its principal location at USF and needs to expand to keep up with Florida’s high cancer rate.

“We are the only Florida-based cancer center that has the national cancer center designation of a comprehensive cancer center. By industry standards, we are the third-biggest cancer center measured by outpatient volume in the country,” Wilson said. “There are over a 100,000 cases of cancer in Florida each year and in order to keep up with that trend we simply have to expand.”

Wilson said the center can’t expand with the current funds.

While the center has a satellite facility on McKinley Drive, the parcel has one building built out of a total of four that were planned. Construction ended three years ago, when the amount of cigarette funding that the Moffitt Cancer Center received decreased from 5 percent to 1.47 percent.

Yet some bills are currently circulating in the Senate and House that would allow funding growth.

SB 1108 sponsored by Sen. Rhonda Storms, R-Brandon, and HB 851, sponsored by Grant, may allow Moffitt to resume construction as early as July 1.

The bills would increase Moffitt’s cut of cigarette-tax revenue back to 5 percent, roughly the same percentage it received from 1998 to 2008.

Grant said the House is preparing to discuss the bills in its individual committees.

“We’re still moving. We got it through on the Senate side through one hearing on (Tuesday),” he said. “We do not have the agenda yet for next week so we don’t know if we’re going to be heard in time.”

While the bill would not allow the center to begin receiving additional cigarette-tax funds, Wilson said if it is signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, the center could receive bonds from a bank.

Grant said if the bill passed today, they would have construction workers “on the ground tomorrow.”

“The bill I sponsored will allow Moffitt to break ground this year with zero appropriations (and) zero money spent until 2013,” he said. “No tax increase at any point, but we could put 6,300 construction workers to work tomorrow. We could put bulldozers in the ground and begin work on a new facility that would be a new day at Moffitt that would eventually house 1,200 to 1,800 high-paying jobs.”

Audie Canney, legislative aide to Storms, said in an email that the passage of the bill is vital to the health of Floridians.

“In 2010, over 100,000 Floridians were diagnosed with cancer and over 40,000 lost their battles,” Canney said. “This is a true need in our community and we are working diligently to secure the funding.”

Wilson said Moffitt currently receives about $5 million from a cigarette-tax collection trust fund that provides funding for the construction and maintenance of cancer facilities. A $0.339 tax is included in every pack of cigarettes sold in Florida.

“We currently receive a small percentage of the 33.9-cent tax,” he said. “We have not been able to continue construction … because we have not had a bondable source of income so they could expand.”

Wilson said Florida has a high risk for cancer.

“We have the second-highest incidence of cancer in Florida, an aging population and with the amount of coastline we have in Florida there is a lot of skin cancer,” Wilson said. “We also consume more cigarettes in the state of Florida than in any other state. If we keep on the current path that we’re on right now, in the next five years we’ll have the highest cancer rate in the nation surpassing California.”

Grant said a decrease in Moffitt’s funding would harm its ability to effectively help cancer patients.

“I have put pretty much every other bill of mine on the back burner,” he said. “This piece of Moffitt legislation is far and away my priority piece of legislation. I think it’s critically important to our community and it’s hard to say that anything else is more important to our community and even our state. When Moffitt is at its best, our residents can be treated at a facility that’s top rate and comparable to any other in the country.”