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Oncologists Oppose Stark Bill

Oncologists Oppose Stark Bill

Depending on what the Senate does in September, there is a slight chance Congress could act on the Medicare Market Acquisition Drug Price Act (H.R. 5167). Introduced by Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif) in July, the bill would change the way Medicare reimburses oncologists for the oncology drugs they purchase to administer to patients in the office. Even the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) agrees change in the reimbursement format is necessary. Nevertheless, Paul A. Bunn, Jr, MD, president of ASCO, says, "Under this bill, reductions in Medicare reimbursement would make it very difficult for many doctors to continue providing high-quality treatment to people with cancer."

The Stark bill would pay physicians only 105% of the average price charged by drug manufacturers. ASCO calls this a "defective" approach for several reasons. For example, although doctors almost always buy their drugs from wholesalers, the Medicare payment of a 5% increase over the manufacturer’s average price could, by itself, fail to cover the wholesaler’s markup to the physician.

Rep. Stark will have a hard time convincing Congress to pass his bill this year. The House passed a Medicare reform bill in June, but nothing on payment for chemotherapy drugs was included. In response, Stark then introduced his freestanding bill. For the Stark bill to have any realistic chance of action this year, it will have to be introduced by someone in the Senate and attached to a Medicare reform bill. The Senate was unable to pass a Medicare reform bill in July but may try again in September.

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