Radiation More Often Prescribed by Doctors with Financial Interest in the Treatment

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Medicare patients suffering from prostate cancer are more likely to be sent to radiation treatment centers by physicians who have a financial interest in them, according to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).


The GAO said Medicare beneficiaries often don’t know that their doctors stand to profit from the use of radiation therapy. Investigators also concluded that alternative treatments may be equally effective and are less expensive than the radiation prescribed.


Urologists “referred a substantially higher percentage of their prostate cancer patients” to radiation therapy when they owned the equipment (linear accelerators) or had financial ties to those who provided the treatment, the report said.


Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, told The New York Times: “When you look at the numbers in this report, you start to wonder where health care stops and profiteering begins. We have a law on the books designed to prevent these conflicts of interest, but an increasing number of physicians are skirting the law for personal gain.”


In its report (pdf), the GAO recommended that doctors be required to disclose their financial interests in treatment and other medical centers, because Medicare officials currently have no easy way to know when such a conflict of interest exists.


But the Obama administration reportedly disagreed with this recommendation, saying the requirement would be too complex to administer and could produce unintended consequences.


Robert Pear of The New York Times also reported that President Barack Obama proposed in his 2014 budget plan new restrictions on doctors’ ability to refer patients for radiation therapy and certain other treatments where they have a financial interest.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Doctors Who Profit From Radiation Prescribe It More Often, Study Finds (by Robert Pear, New York Times)

Medicare: Higher Use of Costly Prostate Cancer Treatment by Providers Who Self-Refer Warrants Scrutiny (Government Accountability Office) (pdf)

Feds Say PacifiCare Overbilled Medicare $424 Million in California (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)


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