Cancer clinics turning away thousands of Medicare patients


Sarah Kliff reports for The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, April 3, 2013, that cancer clinics across the country have begun turning away thousands of Medicare patients, blaming the sequester budget cuts.

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.

Jeff Vacirca, chief executive of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates in New York, explains: “If we treated the patients receiving the most expensive drugs, we’d be out of business in six months to a year. 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.”

Doctors at the Charleston Cancer Center in South Carolina also began informing patients weeks ago that, due to the sequester cuts, they would soon need to seek treatment elsewhere. “We don’t sugar-coat things, we’re cancer doctors,” Charles Holladay, a doctor at the clinic, said. “We tell them that if we don’t go this course, it’s just a matter of time before we go out of business.”

Oncologists say the sequester cuts are unexpectedly damaging for cancer patients because of the way those treatments are covered. 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.

Cancer patients turned away from local oncology clinics may seek care at hospitals, which also deliver chemotherapy treatments but might not have the capacity to accommodate them.

The care will likely be more expensive: One study from actuarial firm Milliman found that chemotherapy delivered in a hospital setting costs the federal government an average of $6,500 more annually than care delivered in a community clinic.

Those costs can trickle down to patients, who are responsible for picking up a certain amount of the medical bills — an average of $650 more in out-of-pocket costs, according to Milliman.

It is still unclear whether hospitals have the capacity to absorb these patients. The same Milliman report found that the majority of Medicare patients — 66% — receive treatment in a community oncology clinic, instead of a hospital.

Non-profit hospitals will likely have an easier time bearing the brunt of the sequester cuts. A federal program known as 340B requires pharmaceutical companies to give double-digit discounts to hospitals that treat low-income and uninsured patients.

H/t Patriot Action Network


16 responses to “Cancer clinics turning away thousands of Medicare patients

  1. Hey, how ’bout that healthcare reform… that was a bang-up job by Democrats, wasn’t it?


  2. So they will blame it on sequester cuts, when it is the beginning of “death panels”!


  3. They want to have patients begging for treatment….Begging for obamacare…


  4. Elections have consequences.


  5. It was inevitable. Why didn’t enough Americans heed our warnings? I’m feeing very sad for our country right now.

    Wasn’t this pig called “The Affordable Healthcare Act“?!!!
    May God Almighty call to account every man and woman responsible for this evil legislation.

    The perpetrators.

    The perpetrators.


  6. Healthcare in this country has been messed up for years. It is too late to blame the current legislation. The Affordable Healthcare Act does not start until 2014, so these greedy companies and clinics are turning up the heat for allowing this act to pass. We are supposed to be one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, yet we bankrupt our citizens just for becoming sick and when they can’t pay or on medicaid or medicare, let’s kick ’em to the curb and say to hell with them. Yes it is sad and the beginning of the death panels.


    • “The Affordable Healthcare Act does not start until 2014”


      From Wikipedia:

      Obamacare or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was signed into law by Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. PPACA contains provisions that became effective immediately, 90 days after enactment, and six months after enactment, as well as provisions phased in through to 2020.


    • Healthcare in this country has been messed up for years.

      Yes it has, and most of the problems started when the federal government got involved, and the deeper their involvement, the worse the problems get.

      With the advent of Commiecare, the problems are now going to worsen exponentially.



  7. Like I have been saying since Commiecare became law:

    Don’t get sick.



  8. One of my sons is a doctor in CA and he is NOT happy about this craziness. Best advice, folks: take good care of yourselves! This country is no longer free. Many years ago my son and I talked about decisions doctors would have to make concerning the dying – at the time we never dreamed the givernment would wind up making them!


  9. Thank you Dr. Eowyn and Patriot Action Network for this most revealing post. This is the horrible effect of Obamacare, legislation that Congress didn’t even bother reading, nor the king himself. I am not at all surprised.


  10. This whole article would make an excellent commercial at election time.


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