Politics

The sequestration cancer scare

The sequestration cancer scare

The Washington Post made waves with a story on Wednesday that blamed sequestration for cancer clinics turning away “thousands of Medicare patients”:

Oncologists say the reduced funding, which took effect for Medicare on April 1, makes it impossible to administer expensive chemotherapy drugs while staying afloat financially.

Patients at these clinics would need to seek treatment elsewhere, such as at hospitals that might not have the capacity to accommodate them.

“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, chief executive 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.”

After an emergency meeting Tuesday, Vacirca’s clinics decided that they would no longer see one-third of their 16,000 Medicare patients.

“A lot of us are in disbelief that this is happening,” he said. “It’s a choice between seeing these patients and staying in business.”

This is said to be the result of a quirk in the way cancer drugs are covered by Medicare:

Medications for seniors are usually covered under the optional Medicare Part D, which includes private insurance. But because cancer drugs must be administered by a physician, they are among a handful of pharmaceuticals paid for by Part B, which covers doctor visits and is subject to the sequester cut.

The federal government typically pays community oncologists for the average sales price of a chemotherapy drug, plus 6 percent to cover the cost of storing and administering the medication.

Since oncologists cannot change the drug prices, they argue that the entire 2 percent cut will have to come out of that 6 percent overhead. That would make it more akin to a double-digit pay cut.

“If you get cut on the service side, you can either absorb it or make do with fewer nurses,” said Ted Okon, director of the Community Oncology Alliance, which advocates for hundreds of cancer clinics nationwide. “This is a drug that we’re purchasing. The costs don’t change and you can’t do without it. There isn’t really wiggle room.”

Well, if you like that, you’re going to love ObamaCare, which stages a massive raid on Medicare funding that makes these sequester “cuts” look like a “rounding error,” according to the Heritage Foundation:

Immediately ahead, for fiscal year 2013, the total effect of sequestration will be $3 billion. That is the same amount Obamacare is supposed to reduce Medicare spending this year.

But if Medicare patients can’t access vitally needed care because of $6 billion in total reduced Medicare payments, they’d better prepare for next year. That’s when Obamacare cuts an estimated $41 billion out of Medicare—in addition to the Medicare sequestration cuts of $9 billion that year.

The total effect of sequestration on Medicare benefit spending is $100 billion from 2013 to 2023. Those cuts pale in comparison to the $716 billion in Medicare payment reductions required by Obamacare over the same time period. Included in these cuts is a payment reduction of $156 billion for Medicare Advantage plans. That kind of a slice is a lot more than just a “tiny haircut.”

By 2020, Obamacare will reduce overall Medicare spending by more than $100 billion a year.

As Heritage reminds us, President Obama and his operatives were angrily denying that his health-care scheme would harm Medicare throughout the presidential campaign.  But ObamaCare is already going to siphon as much money away as the supposedly devastating sequester “cuts,” which are causing clinic doors to shut in the faces of cancer patients… and it’s just getting warmed up.

Also, the details leaked about Obama’s new budget proposal include a plan to collect $400 billion in Medicare “savings,” which according to the New York Times “would mostly come from payments to health care providers, including hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.”  Doesn’t that sound like more of the same thing the sequester is being blamed for?

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