Medicare cuts could devastate access to cancer care

August 15, 2012

The impact of the proposed Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services payment cuts to radiation oncology could severely impact community-based cancer care across the country, according to a recent survey from the American Society for Radiation Oncology.

The impact of the proposed Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services payment cuts to radiation oncology could severely impact community-based cancer care across the country, according to a recent survey from the American Society for Radiation Oncology.

The July 6, 2012 CMS Medicare physician fee schedule proposes to significantly cut the reimbursement rate for radiation oncology services, beginning Jan. 1, 2013. These cuts represent a 15% reduction in overall payment, nearly a $300 million loss for cancer care services. Community-based radiation therapy clinics would be most affected by these cuts, with a 19% reduction hitting these centers, according to ASTRO.

In statement, ASTRO said it is working with radiation oncologists and cancer team professionals to protect patient access to care by preventing the proposed cuts.

The organization conducted an online survey in July, garnering nearly 600 responses. The projected impact of the proposed cuts includes the following:

  • Access to care for Medicare patients could be limited: 70% of ASTRO members reported they might have to limit Medicare patients, and 49% said they may be forced to no longer accept Medicare patients, resulting in access-to-care issues for these patients.
  • Cancer centers may close: 35% of respondents in free-standing centers said they may close their practice; 64% could have to consolidate practice locations, which would lead to longer travel times for patients to get daily treatments.
  • Communities may experience economic loss: 53% of community-based practices may lay off physicians, and 81% of community-based practices may lay off professional staff such as nurses.
  • Access to state-of-the-art technology could be impacted: 93% could delay or cancel purchasing new, state-of-the-art technology, which would affect treatment options for these patients.

"This survey underscores that these cuts would be a severe setback in our fight against cancer," said Leonard L. Gunderson, MD, chairman of ASTRO’s board of directors.

A bipartisan group of members of Congress have also expressed their concerns about the proposed radiation oncology cuts. Reps. Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the respective chairman and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee health subcommittee, with support from Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), are circulating a letter among their colleagues that ultimately will be sent to the administration. A similar bipartisan letter is being drafted in the Senate.

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