Sequester Fallout: Where Will Medicare Patients Get Chemo?

With Medicare cuts from the sequester kicking in this week, cancer doctors warn that they may be forced to stop offering chemotherapy in their offices and clinics.

BUDGETA survey of 331 oncology practices by the Community Oncology Alliance found that 72 percent planned drastic measures like not taking new Medicare patients, not seeing any Medicare patients without supplemental insurance or sending away everyone in the program who needs chemotherapy.

“I hate the idea of people battling cancer worrying about anything,” said Ted Okon, the organization’s executive director. “They have enough on their plates.”

The automatic budget cuts known as sequestration went into effect on March 1 when Congress and the White House couldn’t agree on a better way to cut the budget. But the Medicare cuts are only being applied now - to office visits that came after April 1. So cancer patients could begin feeling the impact soon.

The process has begun, reports the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff: “If we treated the patients receiving the most expensive drugs, we’d be out of business in six months to a year,” said Jeff Vacirca, chief executive of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates in New York. “The drugs we’re going to lose money on we’re not going to administer right now.”

The sequester’s cut on Medicare providers is 2 percent. So what’s the big deal?

Cancer doctors argue that many of the drugs they use will end up costing them more to administer than they get from Medicare. That means they’ll send patients to a hospital for chemotherapy. And that, Okon says, will cost both patients and Medicare more.

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