FORUM: Medicare cuts threaten to compromise cancer patient care

Published by North County Times
Brian Ronson and Tara Washington
August 29, 2012

Who would have thought there would be a time when just about every one of us knows someone with cancer? Years ago, a cancer diagnosis was the equivalent of a death sentence but today, tools such as chemotherapy, radiation, and supportive therapies have drastically improved outcomes for common malignancies. Strides in technology and other scientific breakthroughs have transformed cancer care and extended lives.

This progress, however, is under threat by Washington.

Recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency responsible for overseeing Medicare, proposed a funding cut of 15 percent to radiation oncology and a 19 percent cut to freestanding radiation therapy providers, the highest percentage cut to any medical specialty. This would mean $300 million less for the treatment of cancer patients beginning Jan. 1, 2013.

As radiation oncologists, we are invested in our patients' journey following a cancer diagnosis. The staff at our oncology clinic in Temecula employs state-of-the-art targeted radiation therapy treatments that have a long track record of effectively treating cancer with minimal side effects. By delivering targeted radiation to tumors and other cancers, we are able to control a cancer's spread and relieve pain and other symptoms.

Freestanding outpatient facilities like ours exist in communities such as Temecula to ensure that patients to receive these safe, effective treatments in a comfortable setting close to home. We accommodate patients' desire to receive treatment and return home to recuperate with family, a less expensive alternative than being admitted to the hospital for care. In fact, in today's reimbursement climate, most cancer treatment services are delivered in the outpatient setting.

Many patients are simply unable to make multiple trips to hospital-based cancer centers in San Diego , Los Angeles, or northern Riverside County. Our facility sees approximately 300 patients annually, many of whom travel from rural parts of Riverside County, an already medically underserved region of California.

Limiting support for specialized Radiation Oncology services in our community would result in limiting access to care. Average length of treatment is about six weeks and approximately two-thirds of our patients are elderly Medicare beneficiaries. Now, closures of community-based cancer care facilities are a real possibility.

In the mid-1970s, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer was 75 percent, and for prostate cancer it was 69 percent. Today, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent for breast cancer and 99 percent for prostate cancer. We don't want to backtrack on this kind of progress. Unfortunately, our continued ability to bring state-of-the-art care to patients facing a frightening diagnosis is potentially compromised by these proposed Medicare cuts to our facility and hundreds of others.

We are dedicated to serving the Temecula community and to ensuring that all patients receive the care they need and deserve. We hope readers will join us in asking our elected officials in Washington to urge CMS to stop the proposed rule that will cut reimbursements for cancer care. Nothing should stand in the way of patients with cancer and the treatments that can save their lives.

See the original article here.