Medicare payments article distorted truth

I was disappointed to read The Day's article on Medicare's recently released physician payment data ("Database shows Medicare payments to local doctors," 4/11/2014).

The article lists three local physicians (including this writer) who reportedly received more than $1 million in payments from Medicare in 2012. Readers who click on the article's link to a list of Medicare payments to local doctors are informed that "Medicare program (sic) is the source of a small fortune for many U.S. doctors." The article provides no context for the data and presents a distorted and unfair view of reimbursement to physicians who care for patients with cancer.

The article does not mention the large proportion of reimbursements to oncologists that is used to pay for expensive cancer drugs, many of which are reimbursed at small margins and some of which are reimbursed by Medicare at less than cost. The article also does not mention the highly specialized and time-intensive care provided to cancer patients in community oncology offices by board-certified oncologists and oncology-certified nurses, the high cost of this care, and the fact that this aspect of patients' care is grossly under-reimbursed by Medicare.

The article also does not mention the fact that national professional organizations including the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) and the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) have condemned the release of this information and the manner in which it was released.

ASCO noted that the data contains "extensive inaccuracies ... for many oncologists throughout the United States" and noted that no opportunity was given for physicians to review the information for accuracy."

ACCC noted that "(r)eleasing information that simply states that a particular physician billed Medicare for a certain amount of services does not tell the full story about the work being done to treat patients with cancer" and further noted that "(a) large proportion of the money that is billed to Medicare is immediately returned to drug manufacturers and distributors to pay for high-cost cancer treatments."

COA noted that "(t)he data is incomplete, biased, without context, and an unrepresentative sample of Medicare reimbursement to oncologists."

To my knowledge, no attempt was made by Day reporters to contact me or my office for comment before publishing this information.

Rather than presenting raw and misleading data, The Day should provide some context for the information it publishes. The Day's readers deserve better.

Stephen C. Lattanzi of Waterord is a doctor at the New London Cancer Center.


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