Cancer clinics across the United States are now turning away Medicare patients, the Washington Post reports, citing the sequester budget cuts as the culprit to their financial woes and their inability to fund chemotherapy treatments. According to oncologists at these clinics, the reduced funding, which was activated for Medicare beginning April 1, makes it nearly impossible to provide costly chemotherapy drugs while remaining solvent financially.
“If we treated the patients receiving the most expensive drugs, we’d be out of business in six months to a year,” asserted 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.”
Following an emergency meeting on Tuesday, Vacirca’s clinics resolved to terminate services for one-third of their 16,000 Medicare patients. “A lot of us are in disbelief that this is happening,” he affirmed. “It’s a choice between seeing these patients and staying in business.”
Regarding the sequester, lawmakers limited most of Medicare’s spending cuts to about two percent, a sum significantly lower than cuts to other government programs. But because cancer medications must be administered by a physician, they are subsidized by the Medicare program that covers doctor visits and are impacted directly by sequestration.
The government generally compensates oncologists for the sales price of chemotherapy medications, in addition to another six percent to cover the costs of storing and administering the drugs. But physicians are now contending that the two-percent cut will be taken out of that six percent overhead. “When I look at the numbers, they don’t add up,” Ralph Boccia, director of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Bethesda, said in an interview with the Post. “Business 101 says we can’t stay open if we don’t cover our costs.”
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