Bipartisan group of House members presses Medicare agency on cancer cuts


It was signed by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the former chair of House Republicans' campaign arm, as well as Rep. Chris van Hollen (R-Md.), the former chair of House Democrats' campaign committee.

Former House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larsen (D-Conn.) signed the letter, as did Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersLawmakers deride FTC settlement as weak on Facebook Overnight Energy: Fight over fuel standards intensifies | Democrats grill Trump officials over rule rollback | California official blasts EPA chief over broken talks | Former EPA official says Wheeler lied to Congress EPA head clashes with California over how car emissions negotiations broke down MORE (D-Wash.), the current caucus chair for House Republicans.

The letter, sent to the Medicare agency on Tuesday, questions whether the administration has the flexibility to reformulate steep cuts to cancer clinics.

Clinics have had to turn away thousands of new patients because of the cuts to their Medicare payments, and some say they'll have to close their doors if the cuts aren't reversed.

The cuts happened as part of "sequestration" — automatic, across-the-board cuts in government spending that took effect April 1. 

"We are concerned about how this cut will be implemented and if there is any flexibility available to your agency in how the cut is applied to the payments," the lawmakers wrote. "Unencumbered access to critical cancer medicines for Medicare beneficiaries is a top priority for us and we would like to work with you to find a path forward that does not result in cancer patients being turned away by their oncologists."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusMark Halperin inks book deal 2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care Biden, Harris tangle over heath care in Democratic debate MORE has said the administration does not have the power on its own to soften the cuts to cancer clinics.

The lawmakers' letter questioned whether Medicare could apply the sequester cuts to smaller portion of cancer clinics' payments. Doctors are paid the cost of their drugs plus 6 percent, and the cost of drugs is specified by federal law.

The sequester should therefore only apply to the additional 6 percent reserved for doctors, according to the Community Oncology Alliance, which is lobbying both Congress and the administration to reverse the cuts.