Federal Cuts Could Reduce Cancer Care

When you or someone you love has cancer, you want the best treatment possible, but cancer specialists say a change in Medicare, could mean you'll have fewer options. Bills to reform Medicare could cut $16 billion in cancer money over the next ten years.

Medical professionals, like oncology nurse Kate Rockwell, are concerned that prescription drug plan bills by the House and Senate could hurt the very people they're supposed to help. "They're like family to us," she said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services may reduce reimbursement to doctors for chemotherapy and other cancer drugs. Cancer specialists say that would force many treatment centers, like Summit Cancer Care, to reduce staff, and even close some remote offices.

"They have enough difficulty getting to our satellite office and frequent trips to Savannah would be near impossible," said Rockwell.

Don Ferguson knows that first hand. A cancer patient himself, he worries that with fewer doctors and staff, the blood work, doctor visits and chemotherapy that's done in one visit may now take three. "If I live 30 to 40 miles away, I'm looking at more than a 150 miles, and already as a cancer patient, my energy level is down," he said.

The money from Medicare reimbursement does a lot more than you might think. It offsets the cost of nursing care, pays for a counselor to be on staff to talk to patients and in some locations, it even pays for an on-location pharmacist to mix chemotherapy drugs. But that could change, if the reimbursement level drops.

"It would become impossible, an unworkable solution where cancer therapy would be denied to patients, ultimately," said Dr. Mark Taylor.

That's a large burden for the people who are already dealing with the burden of cancer. Two hundred twenty-five members of Congress have signed letters to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, asking them to eliminate the cuts. A decision could come as early as next week.

Reported by: Liz Flynn, lflynn@wtoc.com