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Improving Cancer Care in Medicare

Posted May 05 2009 5:35pm

This week’s AMA News includes an article about how cancer care for Medicare beneficiaries has improved because of a provision in last year’s Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA).  The provision of interest clarified that Medicare Part D plans need to pay for off label uses of medicines to treat cancer when there is supportive evidence in the peer-review literature.  This changes became effective January 1st, and for at least one patient, it has improved their care. (See the Medicare Rights Center’s press release about the coverage appeal they won for a client because of the new law.)

However, as I noted in an interview with the American Medical News ReachMD Radio-XM 160, (See MP3 audio file below), because the change only applies to cancer treatments, patients with other serious and life threatening illnesses may still find their treatment options limited.  That is, under current law, for non-cancer illnesses, Medicare Part D plans can still limit coverage to only the off-label uses listed in the standard compendia.

American Medical News ReachMD Interview May 5, 2009 - Off Label Coverage by Medicare Part D Plans
American Medical News ReachMD Interview May 5, 2009:
Off Label Coverage by Medicare Part D Plans

I had recommended that the MIPAA change go beyond cancer to include serious or life-threatening conditions - terminology that is somewhat imprecise, but widely recognized, including by the FDA. However, I suspect that because of cost concerns, this broader expansion of off-label coverage was not included in MIPPA.  I find this interesting for two reasons.  First, in these times of record government spending, even MIPPA’s limited coverage expansion for off-label cancer treatments raised some concerns about cost increases - which I wrote about in January.  And second, that restricting coverage of treatments in this way seems philosophically opposite to the intended benefits of Comparative Effectiveness Research - which is all about using the best research findings to improve the quality of care.  Of course, with the size of our health care system, I’m sure this won’t be the last time the left and right hands are not perfectly in sync.

Juggling Balls

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