Earlier this year, the federal sequestration was just a political buzzword for most people. Just a concept — one more thing that politicians in Washington were squabbling about.
Now, pain points from the 2 percent across-the-board spending cuts are hitting close to home, specifically hitting cancer patients.
An oncologist at the Charleston Cancer Center said the private practice will continue business as usual for now, but if sequestration continues to undercut the center’s razor-thin profit margin, doctors may be forced to turn away new patients.
“If this trend continues, there will be a time when we have to turn patients away, if we continue to operate at a loss,” said Charles Holladay, a doctor at the cancer center.
Chemotherapy drugs administered to cancer patients at the practice are exorbitantly expensive, Holladay said. The sequestration cut the reimbursement rate for those drugs for Medicare patients by a third.
“It’s causing us to shift where therapy is delivered,” Holladay said. “If someone comes to me for chemotherapy, I have to run numbers to see if I can get that medication.”
Sometimes it’s too expensive. In that case, Holladay said he continues to treat the patient but outsources the chemotherapy to a hospital.
But the Charleston Cancer Center isn’t taking the sequester sitting down. It recently printed a “Stop Sequester Cuts to Cancer Care” pamphlet and made it available to all patients at the office.
It encourages them to call their legislators in Washington to repeal the cuts.
Contrary to a media report, the cancer center is not turning away any patients as a result of the federal cuts, an administrator at the practice confirmed Friday afternoon.
Kirk Daniel, chief operations officer at the cancer center, said the practice will continue to treat all its patients, including those with Medicare plans. Daniel said The Washington Post inaccurately reported that the Charleston Cancer Center recently informed some patients that they will need to seek treatment for their cancer elsewhere.
Daniel said, if necessary, the center will coordinate a treatment plan with area hospitals to ensure that patients get the chemotherapy drugs they need.
Scott Broome, director for oncology services at Roper St. Francis Healthcare, said the situation is less dire for Charleston hospitals than it is for smaller oncology practices.
“We’re not focused exclusively on giving chemotherapy drugs. We have a lot of other areas of business that depend on whether we make money at the end of the year,” Broome said. “We have a range of services that contribute to our bottom line. If you’re an oncology practice, you’re very exposed to this change.”
Medical University of South Carolina spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said the Hollings Cancer Center is prepared to accept more patients.
“There are definitely some advantages we have to weather this storm because of our size,” Woolwine said. “We’re going to do whatever we can for whoever seeks our help. That’s definitely our mission.”
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.