Drew Olanoff / Flickr Chemo 5...
Drew Olanoff / Flickr

Cancer doctors from all over the country “have reworked schedules, moved patient visits, and more” to travel to Washington, D.C. “to warn policymakers of the real dangers that the continued use of the sequester cut as a budget gimmick has a very real and dangerous impact on cancer care in the United States.”

“Our elected officials need to understand that this sequester may seem like funny money to them but it is a slow bleed closing cancer clinics and forcing them into the waiting arms of more expensive hospital systems—especially those profiting off 340B,” said Jeff Vacirca, MD, president of COA and CEO of NY Cancer Specialists.  “Congress needs to understand that their doubling down on the sequester and constantly extending it will result in community oncology practices being forced to shut their doors, which will cause access issues for patients and increase treatment costs as cancer care shifts to expensive hospitals.”

As a result of the sequester that’s been in place since 2013, they note:

  • 91 cancer treatment clinics have closed – a 31.6% increase in treatment site closings. (Source)
  • 130 independent community cancer clinics, typically comprised of multiple treatment clinics, have merged into hospitals – a 27.7% increase in consolidation of independent practices into the more expensive hospital setting. (Source)
  • The sequester cut to cancer drugs has driven up costs for seniors, Medicare, and taxpayers.
  • The cost of the consolidation of cancer care into hospitals is estimated at
    • $2 billion to Medicare in in the first full year (2014). (Source)
    • $500 million to seniors for that same period.

Here’s what that means in the life of a cancer patient, particularly one who lives in a rural area.

Devin Goodman, an administrator at Glacier Oncology in Kalispell, Mont., the last private cancer clinic in the state, told The Huffington Post that funding cuts from sequestration may make it too costly for patients undergoing clinical trials to continue chemotherapy there. Since a cancer care facility has to be approved for a clinical trial, the patients can’t just go to the hospital in town. Instead, some may have to travel more than 2,000 miles to Washington, D.C., or Boston to continue treatment.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins says she got Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s commitment that congress would waive the paygo law that would force the Medicare cuts, but that has to happen in separate legislation, subject to a 60-vote threshold in the Senate. The legislation he said he’d put it in is the continuing resolution for funding government that’s already bogged down in controversy.

McConnell cannot make that promise because he can’t force Democrats to support it, and he sure as hell can’t force the House maniacs to do his will. They’re already raising hell about that process.

The only thing that’s certain is that if this bill passes, the already devastating cuts that cancer patients on Medicare have been subjected to are going to get much, much worse. That’s the only guarantee Republicans are making. It’s what they are voting for.

Jam your senators’ phone lines at (202) 224-3121. Tell them to vote “no” on the Republican tax bill.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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