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ASTRO urges Congress to pass legislation delaying RO model and protecting Medicare beneficiaries' access to care

Press releases may be edited for formatting or style | December 08, 2021 Rad Oncology
ARLINGTON, Va., December 7, 2021 (view online) — The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) issued the following statement from ASTRO Board of Directors Chair Laura A. Dawson, MD, FASTRO, in response to today's introduction of the Supporting Health Care Providers During the COVID-19 Pandemic Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill includes a provision to delay the start of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' (CMS) Radiation Oncology Alternative Payment Model (RO Model) until January 1, 2023.

"Radiation oncologists across the country applaud our congressional champions for working to protect patient access to cancer care during this pandemic by implementing a one-year delay to the RO Model and mitigating serious Medicare payment cuts. We urge Congress to pass this legislation before year-end. While we are grateful for the delay, our focus remains on the reforms needed for the model to be successful.

We continue to support a transition to value-based care, but the current CMS model needs urgent reforms to achieve that goal. Excessive cuts to radiation oncology reimbursement will force many clinics to reduce services or close, threatening patient access to life-saving cancer treatments. Worse, the impact of these cuts will have a disproportionately negative impact on clinics that treat patients from populations already underserved by the health care system.

This delay creates a critical window of opportunity for Congress to address the RO Model’s flaws, namely the excessively severe discount factor payment cuts, as well as the need for payment stability for all radiation oncology clinics. We are pleased by the momentum building in support of these legislative reforms, and we look forward to working with our congressional champions to address these issues early in the new year."

Medicare cuts to radiation oncology are among the highest of any medical specialty for next year, and they are part of a more-than-20% cumulative drop in reimbursement to radiation oncology over the past decade. Moreover, cuts come as the cancer community continues to bear the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. An ASTRO physician survey found that the pandemic led to delayed cancer screenings and diagnoses, and that as a result, a large percentage of radiation oncologists now care for patients with more advanced cancers that require more intensive treatments. As representative Kim Schrier, MD (D-Wash.), who co-sponsored the bill with Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), said in a press release about the legislation, "A pandemic is not the time to be cutting access to doctors for patients on Medicare."

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