No decision on layoffs at MD Anderson

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Officials at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center said no decision has been made as to whether layoffs will occur at the sprawling institution on Friday.

But, officials at MD Anderson did not rule out the possibility of layoffs at some point in the future.

There is no question MD Anderson is one of the premiere cancer treatment facilities in the world. More than that, it is also a pioneer in the field of cancer research. MD Anderson reported in 2015 alone, it invested $780 million in cancer research.

Vivian Ho is a health care economist at Rice University. She said the challenge for MD Anderson is funding a high level of research while facing a potential decrease in the number of patients receiving treatment.

"They have to recover the cost of performing all these studies from somewhere," Ho said.

Ho said part of the issue is that higher treatment costs left MD Anderson out of the Affordable Care Act marketplace. For many cancer patients, this means they have a choice between paying out-of-network costs or switching doctors.

"Yes, they want to go see the best place, but part of it is, 'Well, if I do go see the best place, I'm going to have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars out of pocket,'" Ho said.

Ho said another factor is pressure from the federal government for health care facilities to provide comprehensive care. Meaning, facilities that did not provide cancer treatment in the past are now doing so, in a bid to keep existing patients within their network.

"There's always an interest of the physicians to keep those referrals in-network," Ho said.

Many ask what this mean for the thousands of employees working in the more than 50 buildings that make up MD Anderson.

On Friday, the facility sent a written statement:

"The overall long-term financial health of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is strong. Like other major healthcare institutions nationwide, MD Anderson faces growing financial pressures related to many different factors.

“We are working collaboratively to reduce expenses and increase revenue to avoid the difficult decision of reducing our dedicated workforce. While we are taking every measure to avoid reducing positions, we must have contingency plans in place in the event that option becomes necessary.

“It is an action none of us wants, but it is a scenario that has to be considered in our commitment to preserve the long-term financial health of the institution. Any potential healthcare decisions would be guided by compassion and thoughtfulness.”

Officials with the Texas Workforce Commission told KPRC they have not received Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification from MD Anderson. WARN letters are typically sent when a large number of layoffs is imminent.

2016 Click2Houston/KPRC2