Cancer Treatment Clinics Turn Patients Away In Lieu of Federal Budget Cuts

The federal budget cuts were first decided on paper; everything was based on theory. That is, speculations persisted as to how cancer patients and other medical patients would be affected by the budget cuts. Now, however, the law has become reality — and so have its effects. The March 1 sequester has led to many treatment clinics denying patients treatment and turning away numbers of individuals (particularly senior citizens) who need medical care most.

The federal government cut Medicare funding by 2 percent, with programs such as cancer treatments and services being hit hardest. Cancer treatments and medications fall under Medicare B, most affected by the sequester. Other medical procedures and services were unaffected by the sequester, those that are included in Medicare Part D.

The result of the budget cuts is that cancer patients will require $6,500 more in chemotherapy costs and $650 more in out-of-pocket costs for chemotherapy treatments. With the rising cancer costs, oncology clinics are turning away patients and denying them chemotherapy treatment. Whereas cancer patients get better care in oncology clinics than hospitals, cancer patients are having to turn to hospitals for treatment — which means that they will likely get a lower quality of treatment than that provided by oncology doctors. Oncology clinics do not have a choice, however: Northshore Hematology Oncology CEO Dr. Jeff Vacirca speaks for all oncology clinics when he said, “We couldn’t last for more than three to six months if we were to be in the red on all those drugs that now the reimbursement has gone down on” (“Sequester Cuts Hit Elderly Cancer Patients”; CBS News).

The problem does not just persist with Northshore Oncology, but is a problem that exists with hospitals and clinics nationwide. North Carolina has been hit by the sequester, but the state still looks to offer the best care and chemotherapy treatments for its cancer patients. There are some North Carolina clinics that have turned away patients, but the state is unified in offering the best care possible. “Our physicians have decided not to make any changes, although it’s going to force our practice to tighten its belt,” according to Cancer Centers of North Carolina Executive Director Tom Grates (“Cancer patients on Medicare in the Triangle will still get treatments despite federal cuts”). North Carolina has 19 oncologists and six oncology clinics in the Triangle (Raleigh area), and none of these 19 oncologists look to turn patients away. Fortunately, for cancer patients who visit the hospitals of UNC Medical Center (Chapel Hill), Rex Hospital (Raleigh, NC), Carolinas Healthcare System (Charlotte, NC), they will still receive chemotherapy treatments. North Carolina differs from other states in that its chemotherapy costs are still covered (although other medical services and expenses will now cost more). Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC had no comment regarding its cancer patients and the effects felt from the sequester.

Other states have not been so fortunate. When financial budgets are cut, the changes affect more than just hospital and clinical budgets; they also affect cancer patients too. Cancer patients must take chemotherapy in order to fight cancer and extend the quality of life. With new chemotherapy solutions and procedures that are non-invasive and do not kill off healthy cancer cells, federal budget cuts will thwart the plans of doctors and medical researchers to provide the best, state-of-the-art care for cancer patients. For the moment, states like North Carolina have a firm resolve to care for their patients, but there is still a need for more medical donations and money devoted to cancer research and drug treatment. Cancer is not going away, so we can either tackle it head on or surrender and lose.

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