Federal Sequester Cuts Force Cancer Patients to Move

For about a year, 81-year-old Harold Rosen, who has stage 4 pancreatic cancer, has been going to a cancer center on Long Island for chemotherapy, but federal sequester cuts are about to change that.

"When I first came here, I was afraid to come because everyone's dying," Rosen said of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates in East Setauket. "But everyone here is so pleasant. They smile, they laugh, they care about you. You would never know it's a place of cancer."

But because of the federal sequester cuts, Rosen's physician and the clinic's chief, Dr. Jeffrey Vacirca, have told him he will need to go to a hospital to continue chemotherapy treatments.

"I have to be financially responsible to be here," said Vacirca. "I owe it to my patients to not go out of business."

Vacirca has already told many of his 16,000 Medicare patients they will need to get treated at hospitals because of the sequester cuts. Medicare used to reimburse North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates for the cost of chemotherapy drugs plus 6 percent. But because of the sequester, which took effect on April 1, the federal government is only providing 4 percent on top of the cost of drugs. And since doctors have to pay technicians and nurses to administer the drugs and care for patients, that 2 percent will make a significant difference.

"While the theory is that this 2-percent cut is supposed to save money, it's actually not," said Vacirca. "It's most cost-effective to administer chemotherapy in a community cancer center like ours. By moving treatment to a hospital, it will actually cost the government more money to provide the same treatment."

As for Rosen, who should be peacefully living out the rest of his life, he is saddled with the burden of having to change treatment centers and disrupt a regular routine.

"I've worked my whole life. In fact, I just retired two months ago at 81," said Rosen. "I've paid Social Security and all that, and I don't see why a senior should have his benefits taken away at this point in his life."

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