Clinics turn away cancer patients, blame Medicare sequestration cuts

Medicare sequester cuts are threatening patient access to cancer treatment, lawmakers and advocates warn as they prepare to lobby the White House to spare cancer clinics, The Hill's Healthwatch reported.

Cancer clinics say the White House can save them from the cuts, which they warn could force some clinics to close. Already thousands of Medicare patients have been turned away from clinics since the cuts took effect April 1, according to The Washington Post's Wonkblog, which broke the news.

Oncologists told the Post they can't afford to treat patients with expensive chemotherapy, which must be administered by a physician under Medicare Part B. Community oncologists had been paid for the drug, plus 6 percent to cover costs. Drug prices are set, the Post said, so oncologists said the 2 percent cut must come out of the overhead.

"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, CEO 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."

About 50 congressional offices from both parties have stepped forward saying they will lobby on behalf of preserving funding for cancer clinics, Healthwatch noted.

"What you would hope is (lobbying) would sort of wake up the administration ... that at least the administration would step back and see what they're really doing," Ted Okon, director of the Community Oncology Alliance, told the publication.

Medicare officials maintain they cannot reverse the 2 percent chemotherapy cuts, according to a follow-up in the Post, which noted disagreement between some lawmakers over whether Congress or the White House has the authority to step in.

To learn more:
- read the Healthwatch article
- here's the Post blog post and follow-up