Oncologists seek patients' budget help.
Oncologists squeezed by the federal "sequester" are looking for help--from their patients. St. Joe's docs sent out what one calls a "Dear Patient" letter emphasizing that while they will still treat everyone "regardless of insurance," federal Medicare cuts make it harder to provide "high quality services."
Philip Stella, St. Joe's director of oncology, explains that with some drugs costing $5,000 to $10,000 a month, the sequester's 2 percent cut hits hard. If funding isn't restored, he says, St. Joe's docs--who operate as a private practice--may be forced to reduce staff and support programs. The feds pay nothing, he points out, for "four nurses in our employment doing nothing but taking care of patients on the phone."
As staff physicians, U-M Hospital oncologists are reimbursed differently, and are less worried. "There's lots of hype right now," says Hematology/Oncology chief Kathy Cooney. "The ultimate impact is not predictable." Still, U-M oncologist Sam Silver, like Stella, has protested the cuts to legislators and officials, both on the phone and face-to-face in D.C. And Stella says the stress for private practices is real. "They're unfairly targeting cancer patients," says Stella. "Doctors have to step up and speak for the patients."
[Originally published in July, 2013.]