Cancer docs call for Medicare payment fix

An influential cancer group is calling on Congress to fix Medicare's flawed physician payment system before an expected spike in demand for cancer treatment hits the U.S. healthcare system.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), in a report released Tuesday, said the number of new cancer diagnoses is projected to increase by up to 42 percent by 2025 as a result of the aging population.

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The group warned that access to cancer care at the community level is already under threat from a looming doctor shortage and cuts to Medicare payments under the sequester.

ASCO President Clifford A. Hudis urged Congress to at least ease clinicians' minds by introducing more stability into Medicare payments.

"The U.S. cancer system is among the best in the world, but it simply cannot continue to meet the growing needs of patients with cancer unless fundamental, systemic change is pursued," said ASCO President Clifford A. Hudis in a statement.

The organization threw its support behind a bipartisan, bicameral bill to repeal Medicare's sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula that is currently held up in the Senate as lawmakers debate offsets.

The House is expected to vote this week on the measure after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced he would pay for the reform by delaying ObamaCare's individual mandate.

This provision disappointed physician groups by injecting politics into the SGR debate, and will put Democrats in a tough spot by forcing them to choose between doctors' interests and a key requirement of the Affordable Care Act.

The SGR repeal bill would end the cycle of short-term "doc fixes" and create new incentives for Medicare doctors to move toward value-based rather than fee-for-service payments.

"Lawmakers have introduced widely supported legislation, which will make meaningful progress toward addressing many of the challenges outlined in our report," Hudis said of the bill. "We encourage Congress to seize this unprecedented opportunity, and act now."