How Medicare's Payment Cuts for Cancer Chemotherapy Drugs Changed Patterns of Treatment

Published In: Health Affairs, v. 29, no. 7, July 2010, p. 1394-1402

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2010

by Mireille Jacobson, Craig C Earle, Mary Price, Joseph P. Newhouse

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The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, enacted in 2003, substantially reduced payment rates for chemotherapy drugs administered on an outpatient basis starting in January 2005. We assessed how these reductions affected the likelihood and setting of chemotherapy treatment for Medicare beneficiaries with newly diagnosed lung cancer, as well as the types of agents they received. Contrary to concerns about access, we found that the changes actually increased the likelihood that lung cancer patients received chemotherapy. The type of chemotherapy agents administered also changed. Physicians switched from dispensing the drugs that experienced the largest cuts in profitability, carboplatin and paclitaxel, to other high-margin drugs, like docetaxel. We do not know what the effect was on cancer patients, but these changes may have offset some of the savings projected from passage of the legislation. The ultimate message is that payment reforms have real consequences and should be undertaken with caution.

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