Home > Magazine > Exclusive Coverage

Oncology Practices Can’t Sustain Further Cuts: A Message from ASCO CEO Allen S. Lichter, MD

Jul 20, 2011

Dear ASCO Members,

As you may know from media reports and ASCO communications, the White House and congressional leaders are in negotiations to find ways to curb the national debt. The leadership of ASCO is extremely concerned that reducing payment from Average Sales Price (ASP) plus 6 percent to ASP plus 4 percent is on the short list of items negotiators are considering. This reduction would represent a staggering $3 billion cut to Medicare reimbursement for oncology drugs.

In my visits to community practices around the country, I have seen first-hand how practices are struggling as a result of the loss of billions of dollars taken away from chemotherapy treatment since Congress imposed the conversion to ASP plus 6 percent. In fact, Congress cut reimbursement far beyond what was originally projected in 2003.

Since that time, many practices have been forced to curtail services, cut staff, and close satellite offices that provided access to cancer care in smaller communities. For many, downsizing or restructuring has not been sufficient for survival. Facing mounting costs and debt, more and more practices have had no realistic way to make ends meet and have had to close their doors.

The consequences to patients and their families are severe when patients can’t obtain treatment in their communities. While suffering a personal health crisis, patients have to travel farther to receive therapy in a hospital setting, rather than in their doctor’s office in their home town. As more and more community practices close, access to care suffers.

Oncology has already absorbed losses in the effort to cut Medicare costs, and the effects of those losses are still reverberating through the field. The proposed reduction will only save Medicare a relatively small amount of money over the next 10 years, less than one-tenth of one percent of total Medicare expenditures. However, the proposed reduction would result in a large disruption of oncology care. Practices that are hanging on by a thread will be pushed over the cliff. Those that have managed to stay in business over the past few years will now be put at risk, as will their patients.

An additional cut is woefully misguided and will produce tragically harmful consequences to the delivery of cancer care for millions of cancer patients, whether they are Medicare beneficiaries or not.

ASCO is strongly opposing the cuts. On behalf of our members and the millions of cancer patients in the U.S., ASCO has contacted President Obama, each of the budget negotiators, House Speaker John Boehner, majority leader Eric Cantor, minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell asking them to remove debilitating Part B cuts to cancer drugs and biologics from a final debt ceiling agreement.

Over the coming days, please watch for important messages from ASCO regarding the budget negotiations. I urge you to take every opportunity to contact your elected leaders to ask them to oppose this cut. ASCO’s ACT Network provides background material and contact information to help you communicate with members of Congress. Your voice, as a constituent, carries great weight in Capitol Hill offices. Together we must work to preserve and improve the nation’s cancer care delivery system for the sake of oncology practice, and ultimately the sake of our patients.

--Allen S. Lichter, MD
Back to Top