Can we really say we didn’t see the cuts to Medicare Part B coming? (These are described in the Houston Chronicle, our feature article below.) Last year the administration made the decision to cut $716 billion from Medicare over the next ten years. $156 billion of this is predicted to come from Medicare Advantage. If you are a Medicare Advantage policyholder, did this news somehow fail to appear in your “Annual Notice of Change” which arrived last October? If so–could this be because we were in the middle of a Presidential election and cuts to your Medicare Advantage Plan might not have helped someone’s re-election? Fortunately for me, I have always encouraged my clients to enroll in Medicare Supplement to fill in their gaps in Medicare if it was at all affordable.
Admin. – Kenton Henry
Houston Chronicle Medicare Part B, life and death
By Michael Hazel | July 19, 2013 | Updated: July 21, 2013 7:04pm
Across Texas, seniors with serious medical conditions could soon lose access to the medical treatments they need.
Right now, in an effort to trim federal spending, lawmakers are considering cuts to Medicare Part B, the component of Medicare that covers cancer treatments and other medicines that are administered by physicians. Lawmakers must reject this proposal and work to balance the budget without restricting access to medical care.
Under Medicare Part B, health care providers purchase drugs that require administration by the provider and are later reimbursed by Medicare, after administering the treatments in their office, according to a preset formula.
For almost a decade, physicians have been reimbursed the average sales price (ASP) of each medicine plus an additional 6 percent. That extra 6 percent helps to cover costs related to the shipping, handling and storage of the drugs, in addition to health care providers’ other overhead and administrative costs.
The federal “sequester,” which took effect in April, has in effect reduced Medicare Part B’s payment formula for drugs from ASP, plus 6 percent, to ASP, plus 4 percent. Now, some lawmakers want to cut that reimbursement rate even further. Such reductions could mean big problems for Medicare patients.
Medicare patients in Texas are understandably worried. John Peterson, a patient at Texas Oncology who’s been battling leukemia for 12 years, is concerned about future treatments. “I have a lot of exotic drugs that we have Medicare pick up the cost … it’s been a life saver,” Peterson told News Channel 25 in Waco. He fears Part B reductions will make continuing treatments at his current cancer center impossible.
Such reservations are not unfounded. Further Medicare Part B cuts could very well force cancer clinics to start closing. According to the Community Oncology Alliance, approximately 240 oncology clinics have closed in the past four and a half years and another 400 are struggling financially.
“Without adequate reimbursement, providers will close their doors, forcing patients to either forgo treatment or be relocated to inpatient facilities, many outside their communities or region,” reports the National Patient Advocate Foundation.
Such closures are particularly problematic in states like Texas, because our state is home to so many rural residents. With fewer community clinics available, rural Texans will have to travel far distances to other centers or hospitals for treatment. For those suffering from life-threatening illnesses, unnecessary travel is exactly what they should be avoiding.
Treating patients in hospitals instead of doctors’ offices is also far more expensive. Milliman, a respected actuarial firm, found that a chemotherapy patient who receives treatment at a hospital costs Medicare about $600 more per month than a patient who is seen at a physician’s office.
For Texans like John Peterson, Medicare Part B is a matter of life and death. It’s unacceptable that politicians in Washington are considering further reductions to the program’s payments for Part B drugs.
Texas’ representatives should make certain that patients can continue to access the medical care they need.
Michael Hazel is the incoming president of Texas Nurse Practitioners.