Medicare changes don't affect cancer care

LOS ANGELES Finding treatment close to home is ideal, especially for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 reduced the amount of money doctors are reimbursed for chemo drugs.

Patient advocates were worried oncology offices would close leaving patients with fewer choices.

"The concern again prior to the enactment of the MMA was that patients would really suffer in terms of their access to chemotherapy with these changes," said Lesley Curtis, Ph.D. Duke University Medical Center.

In a new study provided by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Duke University researchers looked at how long patients waited for their first chemo treatment after diagnosis and how far they traveled for care.

"What we found is that at least by these two measures patients have not been adversely affected and that's really good news," said Dr. Curtis.

Dr. Curtis and her Duke University team analyzed about 20-thousand medicare claims from 2003-2006. They compared data from before reimbursement changes took effect and after.

In 2003, on average patients waited 28 days for their first chemo session and travelled about seven miles for care.

In 2006 average wait times remained the same and travel distance only increased by about one mile.

"Patients are getting care as close to home as before and also they're getting care as soon as they were prior to the legislation," said Dr. Amy Ambernathy, Oncologist, Duke University Medical Center.

It's reassuring, but researchers plan on keeping an eye on the situation. Experts say it's important to monitor medicare changes to ensure patients get the care they need close to home and without delay.

Experts say the aging population in the U.S. is expected to lead to a doubling of cancer patients. And that's why the study's authors say they'll continue to follow how medicare pays doctors and how cancer patients are treated.


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