SOURCE: American Society for Radiation Oncology

American Society for Radiation Oncology

October 01, 2015 14:52 ET

ASTRO Praises Congress for Sending Strong Message Opposing Medicare Payment Cuts to Radiation Oncology

One in Three Members of Congress Sign Bipartisan Letters to CMS Expressing Concern About Payment Cuts to Radiation Oncology

FAIRFAX, VA--(Marketwired - October 01, 2015) - The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) applauds the more than 200 members of Congress who signed letters expressing concerns about the recent and newly proposed Medicare cuts to radiation oncology. The 2016 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS), issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) July 8, proposed new cuts to community-based radiation oncology providers that, if finalized, will amount to payment reductions totaling roughly 20 percent to cancer care over the last 6 years.

In response to the proposal, letters organized by U.S. Senators Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Reps. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) were sent to CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt on September 30, 2015. The bipartisan letters signed by 167 House and 40 Senate members object to Medicare's proposal to cut radiation oncology payments to community-based cancer centers by approximately 5-7 percent for 2016 -potentially higher based on a practice's particular patient mix.

A significant portion of the cuts were due to changes in how CMS accounts for the costs of the use of linear accelerators and associated imaging equipment, both of which are vital to the delivery of safe and effective radiation therapy. Data from ASTRO's July survey of the almost 1,400 community-based radiation therapy centers in the U.S. indicates that with cuts of five to 10 percent, nearly 30 percent of practices may have to close their doors, particularly those operating in rural communities. ASTRO, which represents radiation oncology physicians practicing in hospitals and community-based clinics, submitted detailed comments and recommendations in a letter to CMS September 8, 2015.

"The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) is extremely grateful to Senators Burr and Stabenow and Representatives Nunes and Tonko for their leadership in urging CMS to reconsider the drastic cuts to radiation oncology in the proposed rule," said Bruce G. Haffty, MD, FASTRO, chair of ASTRO's Board of Directors. "ASTRO members appreciate the more than 200 members of Congress who demonstrated a tremendous commitment to cancer patients and the radiation oncology community by signing the Congressional letters against the proposed Medicare cuts. Access to high-quality cancer care is essential to treatment success and patient survival."

"By delivering top notch care close to home, community cancer clinics are an essential part of our healthcare system. We must ensure that these facilities have the tools they need to thrive so that families dealing with a cancer diagnosis don't lose access to this proven model of care delivery. By asking CMS to reevaluate these flawed cuts that could harm patients with a diagnosis of breast or prostate cancer, we can ensure that community cancer clinics will be open for those in need," said Rep. Tonko. In their letter, Senators Burr and Stabenow state that they "recognize the valuable role community-based radiation therapy plays in meeting patients' oncology needs," and that they are "concerned that the proposed cuts could further jeopardize patient access to this treatment option."

Dr. Haffty said that ASTRO is "hopeful that CMS will heed the concerns of Congress and the radiation oncology community and not finalize the agency's proposals, as the changes are too much, too fast, for community-based centers to absorb."

Radiation oncology is a highly-effective and valuable treatment option that can provide curative and palliative treatment for many cancer patients. It is less invasive and with fewer significant side effects than other cancer treatments, allowing patients to be treated in an outpatient setting, and therefore, decreasing the impact on patients' overall quality of life and daily schedule.

The two letters, signed by more than one in three members of Congress, send a strong message to CMS that significant Medicare cuts to radiation oncology are inappropriate and could significantly jeopardize patient access to care.

For more information about the 2016 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule's changes for radiation oncology, contact Erin L. Boyle at erin.boyle@astro.org or 703-839-7336.

ABOUT ASTRO

ASTRO is the premier radiation oncology society in the world, with nearly 11,000 members who are physicians, nurses, biologists, physicists, radiation therapists, dosimetrists and other health care professionals that specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. As the leading organization in radiation oncology, the Society is dedicated to improving patient care through professional education and training, support for clinical practice and health policy standards, advancement of science and research, and advocacy. ASTRO publishes three medical journals, International Journal of Radiation Oncology • Biology • Physics (www.redjournal.org), Practical Radiation Oncology (www.practicalradonc.org) and Advances in Radiation Oncology; developed and maintains an extensive patient website, www.rtanswers.org; and created the Radiation Oncology Institute (www.roinstitute.org), a non-profit foundation to support research and education efforts around the world that enhance and confirm the critical role of radiation therapy in improving cancer treatment. To learn more about ASTRO, visit www.astro.org.

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