The Washington Post reports that cancer clinics across the country are turning away medicare patients as a result of the across-the-board sequester cuts to the budget. The issue revolves around chemotherapy drugs that have to be administered by doctors. Doctors get reimbursed for the drugs by medicare, plus a six percent overhead fee for ordering and storing the drugs, the two percent cut to Medicare Plan B, the portion that covers doctor care, translates into a 33% cut in their fees, which doctors are say makes it too expensive to see some Medicare patients who were previously receiving care.
Sarah Kliff, the Washington Post reporter who broke this story, told Weekends with Alex Witt:
“I’ve talked to clinics from New York to South Carolina that are turning away patients, some say its in the thousands, some in the hundreds…doctors are saying it’s a choice between either seeing this set of patients or keeping my business open.”
Doctors are in turn sending these patients to hospitals to receive chemotherapy treatment, which leads to more medicare spending and higher U.S. health care costs over all. This unintended consequence that runs counter to the sequester goal of deficit reduction, “There are things like this that no one really thought through,” Kliff explains.
Because the cuts are mandated in every federal program it would take legislative action to secure chemotherapy treatment for medicare patients. Kliff told Alex that since her piece was published on Wednesday she has witnessed a growing number of constituents contacting their legislators urging reform; some physicians are even handing out lawmakers’ phone numbers to patients. As to whether the media attention and grassroots action will lead to policy change, that remains to be seen.