Cancer Doctors Claim New Medicare Law May Devastate Care

Many doctors who administer cancer drugs are warning their patients that their office services may change dramatically for the worse as a result of the new Medicare law.

In letters to patients, oncologists across the country are telling their patients that they may be unable to administer newer chemotherapy drugs with fewer side effects, or that the patients may be forced to check into hospitals to receive them.

The new Medicare law recently signed by President Bush reduces the reimbursement oncologists receive for the cancer drugs they administer to their patients. The old reimbursement system had been widely viewed as too generous, and some contend it was prompting physicians to prescribe more drugs than required. The new law, while cutting the rate doctors can charge for the drugs, also raises payments for administering the drugs.

Medicare officials say that on balance oncologists are now receiving more money than before. But many oncologists disagree, claiming that the new system will devastate cancer care.

Dr. Jack Keech, an oncologist in Chico, California, wrote a letter to his patients in December warning that "some services that we have provided in our office in the past will no longer be available to you in our office."

Dr. Robert Siegel of Oncology Associates in Hartford, Connecticut, says that he "would not deny that there isn't some fat in the system that could potentially be cut, but in 2005 and 2006, they're not taking a scalpel to the system but a sledgehammer. They are going to destroy the integrity of this."

For an article on the controversy in The New York Times, go to: (Free registration required and article may no longer be available free of charge.)