The Community Oncology Alliance (COA) today criticized the newest round of cuts in cancer care as a move in the wrong direction of health care reform. Although not as devastating as expected, the cuts by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will still decrease reimbursements far beyond what the U.S. cancer care delivery system, including most patients, can bear.
Though many components of cancer care, such as treatment planning and follow-up care planning, are not reimbursed at all by Medicare, cuts were imposed on diagnostic imaging and services for the administration of life-saving cancer drugs; only cuts for therapeutic radiation were averted. For example, the CMS cuts for chemotherapy administration will phase in at 5% in 2010 and increase to almost 20% by 2013. These cuts come despite the fact that cancer is the number two killer of Americans every year.
"Oncologists have endured substantial Medicare payment reductions since 2004," said Patrick Cobb, M.D., president of COA and managing partner of Hematology-Oncology Center of the Northern Rockies in Billings, Montana. "Some practices will not survive even lower reimbursements again next year. This will limit the availability of care and the access to care, ultimately jeopardizing patient well-being. This most recent round of cuts is the first step to a slow death for cancer practices and to access problems for our patients."
Cuts to such essential components of cancer care have occurred steadily over the last five years. The combined effect has put many cancer practices on the brink of failure as reimbursements by CMS continue to decline in the face of rising costs of treating cancer. Pending Congressional action, additional cuts of 21.5% may also be imposed. While intending to generate funds for primary care physicians, the cuts will hit oncology particularly hard making treatment more difficult for cancer patients who have already seen previous cuts affect their care.
"We are stunned that in the midst of health care reform, no better solution could be found than to put cancer patients at risk," said Ted Okon, executive director of COA. "These new cuts will accelerate the dismantling of the cancer delivery system. Given that the U.S. has the best cancer care system in the world, we are at a loss to explain the logic of endangering it as opposed to building on our successes of increasing the survival for Americans battling cancer."
Community Oncology Alliance