By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Some cancer patients might have trouble finding treatments because of budget cuts. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl says this is affecting patients who get chemotherapy in community clinics.
Budget cuts have already taken a bite out of Medicare drug payments for certain cancer patients. The President’s newly proposed budget could cut even more caught in the middle of all the politics, including doctors and patients who are scared and upset.
Chemotherapy is often a lifesaver for people with cancer, but now, some Medicare patients may not be able to receive treatments in clinics because of the sequester forced budget cuts.
“I am angry, and I’m worried the sequester is causing unnecessary pain and suffering for my patients,” said Dr. Stephen Fox, who owns the Fox Medical Oncology Center in Paoli.
His medication supply is dwindling because of a two percent cut in Medicare drug re-imbursements to community clinics. Because cancer drugs are expensive, doctors and patients won’t be able to pay for the portion not covered by the government.
Stephanie asked Dr. Fox, “Do you think patients are going to have trouble finding treatment and are going to suffer and get sicker because of this?”
Dr. Fox replied, “Absolutely, and they will be forced into higher cost environments, like hospital based cancer programs.”
And it’s not clear if hospitals will be able to absorb all the new patients, where experts agree costs are higher.
“What do we do, break out the shovel? That’s what you’re saying if we got no place to go,” said Joe Parise, a cancer patient.
Dr. Fox has been taking care of 77-year-old Howard Wisch for years. After battling both prostate and pancreatic cancer, he doesn’t feel up to finding a new doctor.
“Without the treatments, I wouldn’t be here,” said Howard.
Dr. Fox is trying to stay open as long as he can.
Doctors and patients have started a petition drive on the White House website in hopes of saving their clinics.
“It’s scary,” said Tom McCloskey, a chemotherapy patient.
Some clinics have already told patients they won’t be able to continue treatment, but there is new legislation pending in Congress that would exempt chemotherapy drugs from the across-the-board budget cuts, and doctors would be reimbursed for any reduced payments made since the sequester cuts took effect for them on April 1st.
For more on the Community Oncology Alliance, visit: www.communityoncology.org