Cancer clinics turning away Medicare patients, thanks to the sequester
Published April 04, 2013 | On the Record | On the Record
With: Ted Okon, Executive Director of the Community Oncology Alliance
This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 4, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Cancer clinics across the country are turning away thousands of Medicare patients-- thousands! Why? Well, the clinics are blaming the sequester. Ted Okon is the executive director of the Community Oncology Alliance. He joins us.
Tell me, Ted, why are these cancer centers turning away Medicare patients?
TED OKON, COMMUNITY ONCOLOGY ALLIANCE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Well, the problem is, Greta, is that the sequester cut Medicare across the board by 2 percent. And the biggest problem here with cancer clinics is, unlike cutting services by 2 percent that physicians provide, it's actually cutting the underlying cost of the drug.
So you're talking about taking a fixed drug-- fixed cost for a drug that a cancer clinic dispenses to a patient, administers to patient, and you're cutting that underlying cost. So the problem is you have a clinic that's sitting there and saying, I've got a choice. Do I continue on treating these Medicare patients in the clinic as opposed to send them elsewhere, to the hospital for treatment, for example, and incur a loss with each one, and ultimately not being able to treat any of my patients because you'll to have close the doors, or do I right away think, Well, let me work with my patients as a partner and send them elsewhere for treatment?
So that's the untenable position that clinics are being faced with right now with this sequester, which actually was implemented for Medicare on Monday.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, here's the thing is I read an article today that said North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates decided they can no longer see one third of their 16,000 Medicare patients. That's more than 5,000 of their Medicare cancer patients they say they can't see anymore because of the sequester.
OKON: So that's the problem. Every practice-- and I was on the phone today with over 150 practice administrators from across the country. And they're almost like deer in the headlights because no one ever thought, Greta, that this sequester would get implemented. No one ever thought that it would get implemented for Medicare. And no one thought that it would ever cut the fixed drug costs in terms of-- in terms of that. So practices are deciding what do they do now--
VAN SUSTEREN: You know what, Ted--
OKON: --and it's a real dilemma.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know what's so appalling is that all these Medicare patients-- they've paid taxes for decades! They've been good, you know, citizens. I mean, and they expected their Medicare. And Congress said when they passed all these laws that they weren't going to-- they weren't going to lay a glove on the Medicare. In the sequester, they weren't going to lay a glove on the Medicare, but they were so stupid the way they wrote that that now they're are hurting the Medicare patients.
And there is a solution. If they would exempt cancer drugs from the sequester, they wouldn't haven't to deny these Medicare cancer people of-- of-- of medical care. But do you know where all these people are who created this problem? We got President Obama out fundraiser. We got members of Congress home in their districts. Some say that they're doing constituent work. You got them traveling around the world, visiting different countries when they all should be back here in Washington exempting those cancer drugs so those Medicare patients could get their chemotherapy! And it's just appalling. If they'd just come back to town and do their jobs.
OKON: Well, Greta, I mean, I agree with you. We've seen a massive consolidation, actually, in the last four years before the sequester. Forty years ago, we evolved this cancer delivery system so that you can get treated in your local community. And now we are devolving it and we're consolidating cancer care back again. And that means patients fall through treatment cracks. That means patients have to go to the hospital. And unfortunately, that costs not only the patients more but it costs Medicare more money.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right--
OKON: So I agree with you. Something has to be done about this immediately before it becomes even more of a crisis than it is.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, with the article that I read, it says because cancer drugs must be administered by physicians, they are among a handful of pharmaceuticals paid for only by Part B of Medicare, which covers doctors' visits, and it's subject to the sequester cut. And the only ones who can fix it are the president, the House, the Senate. They're not here in town. And they're the reason we have sequester because they didn't do their job beginning of August of 2011. And they're all out of town.
And the cancer patients tonight, they're at home, the Medicare ones, terrified, wondering if their number is up in terms of getting treatment!
OKON: Well, I know it's a big problem, believe me. And my wife is an oncology nurse. She was treating cancer patients today. I hear about it every night when she comes home in terms of the good things, the bad things that happen. And the bottom line is this is really very, very serious. And you're absolutely right.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know what? Ted, it's-- Ted, you know what? It's just mean. It's mean and selfish. And all these politicians-- they could fix it, exempt these cancer drugs for these Medicare patients. They could all do it, and they're not here in town! They created the problem. It's mean and it's selfish!
OKON: Greta, I totally agree that this has to be fixed immediately. The good thing is, at least today, I've heard from numerous members of Congress to say, What can I do? What can I do? And I said, We--
VAN SUSTEREN: They can come back to town!
OKON: --basically-- come back to town. And-- and--
VAN SUSTEREN: Yea, stop-- stop the trips!
OKON: --look at the administration--
VAN SUSTEREN: Stop the fund-raising! You know what? Stop taking your two-week vacation for the problem you created for everybody else! You know, come back and do your job you got elected for because it's very painful what they're doing to these cancer-- these Medicare cancer patients and their families.
OKON: Well, we put-- we shouldn't put politics-- we shouldn't put cancer patients in the way of politics. And that's the problem that's happening right now. And we've got to get cancer patients out of that, as you know, especially seniors, our most vulnerable population. We've got to do something about it immediately. So I totally agree with you.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, the solution, let me-- just tell the viewers again, all the Congress and all the White House and the House and Senate has to do is exempt the cancer drugs for the Medicare patients from the sequester. You know, come back and do that. Ted, thank you. And I-- and I-- and I hope that--
OKON: Thank you, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: --the message gets out there. Thank you, Ted.
OKON: Appreciate it. Thank you very much.