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Congress Continues to Weigh in on Proposed Cancer Care Cuts

FAIRFAX, Va., Oct. 23, 2012 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) applauds the bipartisan group of more than 130 members of Congress for working to protect critical access to radiation oncology services. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed policy changes for Calendar Year (CY) 2013 that would cut nearly $300 million for cancer treatment. The proposed rule, published in the Federal Register on July 30, 2012, would revise several reimbursement payment policies and rates for services furnished under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS) as of January 1, 2013. The most significant portion of the cuts would reduce reimbursement rates for the delivery of intensity modeulated radiation therapy (IMRT) by 40 percent and for stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) by 28 percent, specifically decreasing the allowed treatment times.

"If implemented, the impact of these cuts to radiation oncology could be severe for patients, doctors and health care professionals, and our nation's health care infrastructure and the economy," said ASTRO CEO Laura I. Thevenot. "Community-based radiation therapy practices report that cuts of this magnitutude could force as many as half of these practices to close their doors or consolidate practice locations. And the impact on cancer patients could be severe: increased waiting times for care at remaining centers, less interaction time with physicians, elimination of charity care for indigent populations and added travel costs to centers farther away. Nearly one-fourth of the entire Congress has weighed in on these cuts, and we are hopeful that CMS will listen and change course."

When Medicare announced the proposed cuts on July 6, ASTRO conducted a survey of its members to determine the possible effects of the cuts. According to nearly 600 individual survey responses from July 7-11, 2012, the proposed cuts could severely impact community-based cancer care nationwide. Respondents indicated that they may limit access to care for Medicare patients, close or consolidate practices, delay or not purchase state-of-the-art equipment, and/or lay off or reduce staffing, particularly at practices in rural communities.

Led by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), 28 senators signed a September 18, 2012 letter calling for CMS to halt these cuts to radiation oncology. Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) spearheaded a similar letter on September 24, 2012 in the House of Representatives that garnered the signature and support of 104 representatives. On October 3, 2012, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) also sent a letter to CMS.

Cancer patient groups have also expressed concern about the potential impact of the cuts and the reliance on patient education materials to base complex reimbursement decisions. On September 4, 2012, the Cancer Leadership Council (CLC) submitted a comment letter to CMS recommending a reversal of the impending cuts to radiation oncology to ensure that cancer patients will continue to have access to high-quality radiation therapy. Signatories on the CLC letter include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Advocacy Alliance, the LIVESTRONG Foundation and the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, among others.

ASTRO submitted a formal letter to CMS on September 4, 2012 to stress the need for sound data and a rigorous analytical methodology for determining reimbursement rates for physician services. In addition to reducing treatment times for IMRT and SBRT, the proposed rule presents a nubmer of issues of concern to ASTRO such as the need to: properly account for the appropriate number of radiation therapists present during treatment; update equipment costs for IMRT treatment; close the self-referral loophole for radiation therapy services; and identify appropriate interest rates for equipment loans. ASTRO applauds CMS for including the oncology measures group for the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) 2013 and for changing the reporting criteria for measures groups for PQRS 2013-2016.

"Our members treat more than one million cancer patients each year and save many lives," said Leonard L. Gunderson, MD, MS, FASTRO, chairman of ASTRO's Board of Directors. "These cuts to reimbursement will have a domino effect on the quality and availability of cancer care around the country and would be a significant set-back in our fight against cancer. In order to preserve lives, access to care is essential."

For more information about the proposed CMS cuts, ASTRO's letter to CMS, the CLC's letter to CMS, letters of congressional support or detailed survey results, contact Michelle Kirkwood, 703-286-1600, press@astro.org.

ASTRO is the largest radiation oncology society in the world, with more than 10,000 members who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. As the leading organization in radiation oncology, biology and physics, the Society is dedicated to improving patient care through education, clinical practice, advancement of science and advocacy. For more information on radiation therapy, visit www.rtanswers.org. To learn more about ASTRO, visit www.astro.org.

CONTACT: Michelle Kirkwood, 703-286-1600, press@astro.orgSource:American Society for Radiation Oncology