Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Medicare to cut cancer docs' pay

Chemo may be moved to hospitals

By Mark Sherman
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration announced plans Tuesday to cut Medicare payments to cancer doctors, saying taxpayers have been paying the physicians up to twice what they should for certain medications.

The proposed changes would save the government $530 million and Medicare beneficiaries $270 million next year, said Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Medicare spent $10.5 billion last year on prescription medicines administered in physician offices and clinics.

Cancer doctors and patient advocates said the proposal could force patients to get their treatment in hospitals, sometimes far from their homes, rather than in physicians' offices.

Ellen Stovall, president and chief executive of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, said, "Our concern is that whatever cost savings may be realized will come at the expense of quality care for patients."

Cancer specialists' revenues could decline 2 percent to 8 percent, McClellan said. Payments for some treatments for prostate cancer would be cut in half under the proposal.

Drugs dispensed in doctors' offices to treat respiratory problems, for which Medicare pays up to 90 percent more than the sales price, also would be affected, he said.

"We're going to get more for our money," McClellan said.

Medicare won't pay for most prescription medicines until 2006, but it covers the cost of intravenous chemotherapy and other treatments that must be dispensed by medical professionals.

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