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As Sequester-related Budget Cuts Take Effect, Cancer Patients Are Left Feeling Stranded

Apr 04, 2013 05:09 PM EDT

Sequester-related budget cuts are taking root and among those hit the hardest are indviduals battling cancer.

Dr. Saed J. Sahouri told The New York Times that ignored pressure from his office manager to stop seeing patients on Medicaid for months before if finally became fiscally impossible for him. In all, co-pays amounted to just $25, and that was before the 8 percent cut Michigan instated throughout the state in order to help close the gap in the budget.

"We were starting to lose more and more money, month after month," he told the news outlet. Eventually, he wasn't breaking even anymore.

What will happen to Sahouri's patients isn't clear - some will likely end up going doctor-to-doctor while some may continue treatment at a hosptial.

"Some practices are right now being forced to send patients elsewhere for treatment," Ted Okon, the executive director of the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) told the Russian-based news company RIA Novosti. "Other practices are in total disbelief and will be hit over the head in a week or so when payment claims they put in to Medicare come back with a 2 percent cut."

The Sequester, Okan said, is a "blunt ax."

In all, a COA study issued in March showed that nearly of 75 percent of cancer clinics will be forced to turn away new Medicare patients or send all of those on government-sponsored healthcare to hospitals where treatment is more expensive.

If this is the case, Dr. Mark Thompson of the Zangmeister Center said that the government will only end up feeling it more. 

"The last thing this country needs is moving expensive care like cancer care into an even more expensive setting, like hospitals," he told RIA Novosti.

A study conducted by health care consultants Milliman for the U.S. Oncology Network discovered that, on average, chemotherapy costs $600 more per month when administered in a hospital versus a clinic or doctor's office.

What's more, the study found that more than half of cancer care expenditures are for Medicare recipients.

One reason for the dramatic shift, according to Okon, was a lack of preparedness.

"Everyone was taken by surprise that this was implemented, even the government committee in charge of Medicare reimbursements," he said. "Now, we're like deer in the headlights and we don't know what to make of it."

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