ASTRO: RT equipment use rates nearly half those proposed by Medicare

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A new survey has found that utilization rates for radiation therapy (RT) equipment used in freestanding cancer treatment centers are closer to the current assumed rate of 50 percent rather than the 90 percent proposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in the Medicare physician fee schedule proposed rule for 2010.

The study, carried out by the market research company dmrkynetec, was commissioned by the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO). Nearly 2,844 radiation oncologists completed questionnaires between July 7 and July 23.

“Our study, conducted by a respected research group, shows that Medicare’s proposed equipment utilization rate for freestanding radiation therapy centers is inappropriate for radiation therapy,” said Patricia Eifel, MD, chairman of ASTRO and a professor of radiation oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “We are presenting these data to CMS this week and encouraging the agency to maintain the current rate of 50 percent for radiation therapy equipment.”

According to ASTRO, by increasing the utilization rate for equipment costing more than $1 million from 50 to 90 percent, Medicare payments for radiation therapy services will be significantly decreased. This, Eifel said, could cause “many cancer clinics to close or stop treating Medicare patients, denying many patients access to the care they need to fight cancer."

ASTRO also said that CMS misapplied a Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) recommendation to increase the assumed equipment utilization rate for diagnostic imaging equipment. According to the society, more than 60 members of the House of Representatives have sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius clarifying the difference between radiation therapy and diagnostic imaging, and asking her to reconsider the cuts.