Queens cancer patients may lose community cancer clinics due to budget cuts

Cancer clinics across Queens are facing potential shutdowns due to a state budget cut that has put their patients — especially low-income, elderly and disabled patients — at risk of losing the important care they need.

Last year, lawmakers said that the state would no longer pay for all cancer care costs provided to patients who are in both the Medicare and Medicaid programs, known as dual eligible patients, meaning that Medicaid will not reimburse partial Medicare Part B coinsurance amounts when the Medicare payment exceeds the Medicaid fee or rate for that service.

Queens Medical Associates, a community cancer center located at 176-60 Union Tpke. in Fresh Meadows, as well as other oncologists are raising alarms and fighting to keep local cancer centers open.

This budget cut, which went into effect on July 1, 2015, allows the state to save money, but puts a large burden on these community cancer centers by making them responsible for paying for what the budget will not.

“That money is very important to the groups, said Susan Dicosola, executive director of Queens Medical Associates. “We barely make enough to cover our expenses in the community setting. If we don’t get that money it could sink our ship. Too many community care centers have gone out of business across the country.”

Queens Medical Associates has 1,062 dual eligible patients, making up 19.3 percent of their practice. If this budget cut is not reconsidered, the cost of caring for these patients will cause Queens Medical Associates, and centers like it, to close down, forcing their patients to go to hospitals to get their care.

“In Queens Medical Associates, we see 300 patients a day. We render over 200 treatments a day,” Dicosola said. “The hospitals can’t take these patients. They don’t have the capacity. Where are they going to go?”

Critical services, such as the skilled nurses that care for patients while they receive chemotherapy treatments, fall under the cuts. This could cause practices to cut back on skilled nursing care and similar services, leaving patients without the lifesaving treatment they need.

“You want a nurse to be able to guide you through your treatment,” Dicosola said. “These payment cuts are for nursing and physician care. These patients would have to go to the hospital if we can’t provide them. It’s not a little bit of inconvenience, you’re talking about people being able to function.”

In order to combat this budget cut, Dicosola and other have visited Albany to garner the support of the Senate and the Assembly. Queens Medical Associates have met with Senator Tony Avella and Assemblyman David Weprin, who got behind them.

“The key thing we are asking for is the immediate suspension of the cuts, suspension of the retroactive pay back to Medicaid,” Dicosola said. “It’s a small segment in overall budget, but it has a huge impact on our community. We have canvased all of the members of the Health Committee in the Senate and Assembly. All of them said they see our point of view. Now they need to take action.”

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