8
Sep

Medicare Cuts Hurt Cancer Patients

Coborn Cancer Center at CentraCare Health System in St. Cloud and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester are two jewels in Minnesota’s health care crown, check offering some of the best cancer care in the world. More than 800,000 Minnesotans are eligible to receive vital cancer treatments, like chemotherapy, under Medicare Part B.

Seniors battling cancer frequently rely on community-based clinics or doctor’s offices to provide these treatments, yet the majority of the nearly 30,000 Minnesotans diagnosed with cancer each year could soon be forced to seek treatment elsewhere.

Why? Because some in Washington, D.C., want to enact deeper cuts to Medicare Part B which helps cover the costs of fighting cancer for many seniors. Thankfully, Minnesota Congressman Erik Paulsen is applying some common sense and working overtime to protect citizens from such harmful reimbursement cuts. We need our other Congressional representatives to join his efforts.

Medicare Part B covers the cost of outpatient medical care, such as chemotherapy and other physician-administered drug treatments. Part B covers the kind of drugs you can’t pick up at your local pharmacy — they’re the kind that must be administered by a physician. Under Medicare Part B, doctors and clinics first purchase drugs and then seek reimbursement from Medicare after administering the drugs to their patients.

The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 set the reimbursement level for physician-administered drugs at the average sales price of the medication, plus 6 percent. The 6 percent recognizes that a doctor’s cost is more than just the cost of the drugs. These medications must be safely shipped and stored, and staff have to be trained and supervised to handle them properly.

By paying a reasonable amount for the right treatment at the right time, this reimbursement formula has helped save the federal government $16 billion over 10 years. But then came the arbitrary, across-the-board cuts of federal sequestration which reduced Medicare Part B drug reimbursements down to ASP plus four percent.

Now, President Obama’s latest budget proposal cuts even deeper into the reimbursement rate for Medicare Part B drugs, down to ASP plus 3 percent. The administration estimates this cut will save the federal government $7.4 billion over the next ten years, but that doesn’t count the cost to seniors who could lose access to Part B cancer treatments.

Cuts to Part B reimbursement rates for drugs have already forced one community cancer clinic in Minnesota to close its doors. Another clinic reports it is struggling financially, and two others are referring Medicare patients elsewhere because they can’t afford to offer this kind of care anymore. Unfortunately, not all Minnesota Medicare cancer patients can go to Coborn Cancer Center or the Mayo Clinic for their chemotherapy.

Congressman Paulsen understands Minnesota can’t afford to lose any more of its 25 remaining clinics. He has worked hard to protect Medicare Part B drugs from deeper reimbursement cuts that would force more cancer patients into more costly inpatient settings for chemotherapy. Ironically, a recent Milliman study found that hospital costs for cancer treatment typically covered under Medicare Part B are 28 to 53 percent higher than the same treatment in an outpatient setting, depending on the cancer.

I strongly support government efficiency, and we certainly need to find responsible ways to curb unsustainable growth in federal spending and debt, but not at the expense of our seniors who need access to critical chemotherapy and other Part B medications.

Deeper cuts to Medicare Part B drug reimbursements jeopardize potentially life-saving treatments for thousands of Minnesota seniors.

I salute Congressman Paulsen for working hard to protect Minnesota Medicare patients. We should all encourage his colleagues on Capitol Hill to follow his lead.

 

Original article:  http://www.sctimes.com/story/opinion/2015/09/04/medicare-cuts-hurt-cancer-patients/71712832/