Supercommittee: Don't force cancer clinics to close

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Part B covers an overwhelming 50 percent of cancer patients in the United States.  Reducing its funding would further squeeze the physicians who provide chemotherapy under this program and have a terrible impact on our ability to treat cancer patients in the United States. Taking a budget ax to this essential program would jeopardize the ability of many clinics - especially those located in rural communities - to provide their patients chemotherapy, threatening the ability of our sickest and most vulnerable Americans to access the critical medicines and care they need.
 
In fact, doctors rely on reimbursements from Medicare Part B only after they have already purchased drugs from manufacturers.  If lawmakers cut reimbursement rates, doctors will likely be forced to turn away the sickest and most vulnerable cancer patients.  No physician wants to take this kind of action but they may be left with no other choice.
 
When Congress passed the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug plan, it altered reimbursement rates for Part B services, resulting in savings for the government, but sacrifices for many healthcare providers who treat cancer patients.  As a study in Journal of Clinical Oncology wrote, the cuts to payments have created “economic strains” on healthcare providers that have limited “patient access to care” because practices have had to turn away patients or go out of business.
 
Many healthcare providers will be unable to sustain yet another round of cuts while treating our most vulnerable Americans during their time of greatest need.  Eighty percent of cancer patients are treated in facilities that are already struggling financially.  Over the last three and a half years, 199 cancer clinics have been forced to close and 369 have said they are having a difficult time keeping up financially. Additional cuts to Medicare Part B will only exacerbate these existing financial problems and make it even harder for patients to receive the chemotherapy treatments they need.
 
It is simple:  Cutting Medicare Part B could cause more clinics to close and deny cancer patients the care they require.  Many of the elderly who do receive care will now be forced to travel longer distances for their chemotherapy.
 
We cannot let the budget fight in Washington stop the fight against cancer. Congress needs to keep Medicare Part B away from the budget axe.
 
Christina Mayville is a neurologist from Atlanta who serves on the Board of the Alliance for Patient Access, a national network of physicians dedicated to ensuring and protecting patient access to approved medical treatments and therapies.