Medicare: budget cuts leave disadvantaged out

A new Medicare payment program, which took effect Jan. 1, has affected hundreds of oncology practices across the nation.

This new program stands to disrupt the regular treatment of thousands of cancer patients.

Over 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with various types of cancer every year, and Medicare covers half of these patients.

In 2000, the General Accounting Office estimated that Medicare paid doctors at least $500 million more for chemotherapy drugs than the doctors paid for them up front.

This new system has reduced the amount of money that Medicare will reimburse oncologists for the chemotherapy drugs they administer to their patients, thus limiting the amount of care that will be available to cancer patients.

Many oncologists have been driven to downsize their nursing staff and discontinue chemotherapy treatment altogether for patients that use Medicare.

These doctors cannot afford to subsidize the costs of chemotherapy without the additional aid that the U.S. government was providing.

With an expected $16 billion cut in Medicare cancer care over the next 10 years, primary care physicians are noting a heightened reluctance to assist patients diagnosed with cancer.

Unfortunately, the changes that were set into motion will ultimately directly affect the extent and quality of attention that cancer patients receive.

Elderly and disabled patients will be forced to seek hospital treatment that is often considerably more costly and impersonal for the patient.

Studies have shown that patients who are comfortable with their health care provider are more likely to spend less time under a doctor’s care and to recover from illness.

The plan manages to save funds for the federal government at the expense of the health and wallets of the millions of elderly and disabled Americans covered under the Medicare system.

The amount of money saved is not worth ripping away the semi-affordable private practices that cancer patients need to sustain their health and comfort.

Primary care is expensive and difficult enough to find for cancer patients without doctors turning patients away, because the U.S. government decided to take away billions of dollars to invest in other programs.

To add insult to injury, the government continues to propose plans to make prescriptions more affordable for senior citizens but refuse to make necessary treatment accessible for the ailments of these same patients.

The U.S. government is sending the message that it does not have the patience to find a way to save money and lives simultaneously.

Medicare beneficiaries are already paying almost $200 million in excess co-payments for chemotherapy each year without the government stepping in to make seeking proper health care more difficult.

It’s sad to know that, in the end, the people who need care the most receive the least.

Karen E. Marsh for The Editorial Board