ASTRO decries rad therapy cuts in 'fiscal cliff' bill

The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) has issued a statement opposing Medicare payment cuts to cobalt-60 radiation therapy treatments in the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) of 2012, the legislation passed this week that resolved the "fiscal cliff" emergency.

ATRA includes cuts of $300 million to Medicare payments for cobalt-60 treatments over the next 10 years, in addition to $800 million in cuts for advanced diagnostic imaging services. The cuts were made to help pay for a "fix" to the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, which would have implemented a 27% payment cut to all physicians in Medicare, but which was postponed for a year with the ATRA legislation.

ASTRO Chairman Dr. Michael L. Steinberg said the reduction in cobalt-60 outpatient payments reduces reimbursement for the procedure to the level of another treatment modality that uses a linear accelerator to deliver radiosurgery. Cobalt-60 relies on highly skilled professionals and resource-intensive materials and equipment, Steinberg said, and the ATRA legislation gives radiation oncology facilities less than three months to prepare.

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