Sequester inflicts real pain on cancer patients

The mandatory budget cuts are forcing chemotherapy clinics to make a difficult choice: Turn away patients or risk bankruptcy.

By Jason Notte Apr 5, 2013 10:59AM
Senior man in wheelchair looking out hospital window (copyright Tetra Images/Getty Images)If federal workers being furloughed for days doesn't make the sequester seem real enough for you, maybe getting turned away at a cancer clinic will help the mandatory round of tax hikes and spending cuts sink in.

According to The Washington Post's Wonkblog, cancer clinics across the country are turning away thousands of patients after cuts that went into effect on April 1 made administering expensive chemotherapy drugs too costly for many facilities to sustain. Clinics are funneling patients to already busy hospitals while saying that continuing the status quo would bankrupt them in six months to a year.

The cuts are particularly troublesome for Medicare patients, roughly a third of whom are losing their treatments as a result. Lawmakers tried to limit the impact on Medicare patients by keeping cuts to the program at 2%. Unfortunately for cancer patients, that 2% is falling almost squarely on the portion of the program that doles out their drugs.

Medications for seniors are usually covered under the Medicare Part D option, which includes private insurance. But cancer drugs have to be administered by doctors and fall under Part B's coverage of doctor visits, which are subject to the sequester cut.

That's not sitting well with clinic oncologists, who are typically paid by the government for the costs of chemotherapy drugs, plus 6% to cover the cost of storing and administering them. Since drug costs are fixed, the sequester cut would come directly out of oncologists' other costs, which makes it a far more potent reduction for doctors.

Oncologists are trying to get lawmakers to exempt cancer drugs from the sequester cuts or, at the very least, reduce only the amount of money doctors take to administer the drugs. Patients, however, don't have time to wait around and see how this turns out. So, they’re already heading to hospitals.

That's going to blunt some of the intended effects of the sequester cut, as research firm Milliman notes that chemotherapy performed at hospitals is, on average, $6,500 more costly than when administered at community clinics.

Even those looking to make cuts to current health care costs say this isn't the best way to make them.

“I don’t think there was an intention to disrupt care or move it into a more expensive setting,” Cathy Schoen, senior vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, which recently released a plan for cutting $2 trillion in health spending, told Wonkblog. “If that’s the case, we’re being penny-wise and a pound-foolish with these cuts.”

More on moneyNOW


this is NOT an impact of the sequester, (incorrectly reported by WP), but rather a decision by K Sebelius (HHS head). 

In an effort to reign in health care costs she CHOSE to reduce this spending.  Once again the near-sighted wisdom of lawyers/politician who try to legislate what they want to happen and ignoring the Law of Unintended Consequnces.

Apr 5, 2013 1:53PM
But yet we still have a Billion dollars to send to Pakistan. (Yes this happened THIS year). That's what you liberals get for electing Obama. Americans with cancer suffer while MY money gets sent overseas. Nice work!!
Apr 5, 2013 12:23PM
Our lawmakers need to return to Washington and fix this problem now. Those who don't return and fix it should be remembered on election day for this appears to be "Death Panels" at work and the american people shouldn't tolerate it.
Apr 5, 2013 2:34PM
We have social security disability fraud, unemployment benefit fraud, medicare and Medicaid fraud, stealing by politicians but yet, politicians make cuts on people who are truly sick where it is a matter of life and death. THIS MAKES ME SICK!
Apr 5, 2013 3:46PM
They did not cut  Joe Biden   budget - he recently spent 530 000 $ for a one night hotel stay in Paris. It would be enough to avoid cuts in Ohio for at least a month
Apr 5, 2013 2:05PM
obama is using Americans as pawns in his little scheme.
Apr 5, 2013 4:38PM
Let's not forget that First Lady Michelle Obama could bring kids up from Florida to plant a vegetable garden at the White House!  Why worry - they know the priorities for the Sequester!  Photo-ops take precedence over substance.
Apr 5, 2013 3:56PM
A lot of Doctors are refusing to treat medicare patients.  This was happening long before the sequester.  It is very hard in my town to find anybody that is taking medicare patients because the govt. is only giving them pennies on the dollar for their treatment of patients.....wait untill Obama Care really kicks in, it will get much worse.
Apr 5, 2013 9:13PM
As always threaten the programs of the elderly and children and severely ill. Does anyone really think the President and his administration have a spine or care about anyone but themselves. Oh.wait when asked to explain current parts of Obamacare that are or are going into effect now, Nancy Pelosi said I don't know. I think I will go out and give a car dealer $30,000 for a new car and just take what they give me and believe it's a good deal, and what is best for me.
Apr 6, 2013 2:11PM
Let's see it costs taxpayers 1.4 Billion dollars a year to keep the Obama's living the high life. They pay or we pay for the Chief of Staff to the Presidential DOG $102,000. a year. White House Tours that were cancelled cost about $80 grand a year. Strangely tours of the Senate and Congress are not effected. So far the first week of April the Obama's have taken 3 vacations! Let's not forget Michelle Obama's 50th birthday party with Beyonce and Adele performing I wonder what that cost. Obama used a 20 car motorcade to go 6 blocks to have dinner with republicans. People need to start waking up and look at what is really going on with this administration. Even ABC news did a story on the 20 car motorcade to go 6 blocks which was a real shock. Start demanding answers and remember the media hides a lot information from us concerning this administration. This sequester is just a game being used by the democrats to not have to cut back on their spending. The demcrats were given the tax increases on the rich but, have failed to begin to cut back on their spending. Obama spends money on himself living in the White House nothing is too much and he spends the taxpayer dollars in shameful waste. Start looking at the money going overseas, the military equipment he sending overseas and who he sending it to. You not to see how he has bypassed the Congress and Senate many times more than all presidents combined..
Apr 5, 2013 1:36PM

Currently, I am an elderly cancer patient on chemo in Ohio.  After six months of sittiing in the treatement area, I see that most of the people are elderly. So the effect will be the deliberate murder of elderly.  I call the politicans murders...especially the GOP!  


   I previously wrote my Republican congressman about this, his reply was a "Rah-Rah" for Paul Ryan and had nothing to do with this issue.   What an "****"!!

Apr 5, 2013 6:52PM
This was thought out.. Obama knew this would happen.. He wants as much pain as possible. come on people. Wake up.. This is just pure hatred from the govt. If they didn't know that makes them even more stupid and ridiculous.. Here is more proof that Obama is out to hurt seniors.. He lies constantly.. When will you liberal realize that he is Hitler reborn.. He will say who lives and dies.. Hollywood is loving all the people who killed people in the 60's and 70's.. Smiths and JayZ are doing films and making them heroes... They are teaching at our Universities.. PEOPLE wake up.. Communism is coming. Obama is getting us started down the road along with Hollywood.. Don't go to the movies.. boycott. I am tired of Hollywood actors thinking they are gods.. take them down a peg..
Apr 8, 2013 12:42PM
Don't be looking a gift horse in the mouth here: If all these entitlement programs and Obamacare primarily serves the 47% leach class, and those sponges can't get their cancer drugs from this socialist regime any more, the $255 death benefit will be the smartest money the Gov will ever spend.
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