Michelle Flowers

Michelle Flowers

The Senate Finance Committee just advanced a sweeping Medicare overhaul.

Unfortunately, the bill does little to help America's sickest patients; it jeopardizes physicians' ability to provide timely, quality care to tens of millions of Americans. Congress would be wise to reject it.

The proposal impacts Medicare "Part B," which covers doctor's visits, outpatient procedures, and most medicines administered by injection or IV drip. Currently, roughly 50 million seniors and 10 million Americans with

disabilities benefit from Part B.

Currently, physicians and hospitals purchase Part B drugs directly and then bill Medicare for reimbursement. In addition to the drug's cost, Medicare gives providers a small financial markup to cover overhead costs.

The Senate Finance Committee bill fundamentally alters the reimbursement process -- and not for the better.

Right now, Medicare doesn't consider manufacturer discounts to physicians -- known as "co-pay coupons" -- when calculating provider reimbursement rates. This allows doctors and hospitals to receive more compensation for administering Part B treatments, thus encouraging them to participate in the program.

But the new bill would allow Medicare to factor these discounts into its reimbursement system. And once Medicare formally acknowledges that doctors pay less for Part B treatments, they will receive less reimbursement money.

In other words, the change would function as a de facto reimbursement cut to providers and hospitals that help treat patients with lots of advanced medicines.

Reimbursement cuts would have grave consequences for both physicians and patients. Many practices and clinics already have razor-thin margins. Cutting reimbursements further would push some operations to the edge of insolvency, forcing them to turn away patients or close their doors entirely.

During previous Medicare reimbursements cuts in 2013, for instance, approximately 80 percent of oncologists said the cuts affected their ability to deliver quality care. Fifty percent reported sending patients elsewhere for

treatment.

Cancer patients can't afford any more setbacks. According to the Community Oncology Alliance, more than 420 community oncology practices closed their doors last year. Another 350 reported they were struggling to stay afloat. Any additional cuts to hospital and doctor reimbursements would hinder physicians' ability to care for patients.The change would harm Americans struggling with a host of complex conditions ranging from arthritis, to immunodeficiencies, to blood disorders, and more.

More than 100 patient advocacy organizations just sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee opposing these drastic changes to Medicare Part B for this very reason. As the letter reads, "policies the committee is considering put program costs before the health of patients living with serious illness."

Their analysis is spot on. Congress should toss this idea. Cutting reimbursement rates impedes patient access to life-saving treatments.

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