Reductions Planned

In Medicare Payments

The Bush administration announced yesterday the details of its plans to cut Medicare payments to cancer doctors, saying taxpayers have been paying the physicians up to twice what they should for certain medications.

The proposed changes would save the government $530 million and Medicare beneficiaries $270 million next year, said Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Medicare spent $10.5 billion last year on prescription medicines administered in physician offices and clinics.

Cancer doctors and patient advocates said the plan could force a dramatic change in care, with patients forced to get treatment in hospitals, sometimes far from their homes, not in physicians' offices.

Cancer specialists' revenue could decline 2 to 8 percent, McClellan said. Payments for some treatments for prostate cancer would be cut in half under the proposal.

Drugs dispensed in doctors' offices to treat lung illnesses, for which Medicare pays 90 percent above the sales price, also would be affected.

The proposed regulations would set the terms for introductory physical examinations and other new preventive screenings for Medicare patients, boost payments to physicians in areas with substandard medical help, and increase doctor payments generally by 1.5 percent.

For the Record

* Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.) criticized the Bush administration for a "host of mistakes" in its postwar reconstruction of Iraq, saying the country is less secure than before and that basic infrastructure is still not working. Chafee said the U.S. effort will fail if the White House does not do a better job of working with other countries in the region and reengage itself in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

* Airline pilots are opposed to installing cameras in cockpits that safety officials want to require as an aid to accident investigation and prevention. The National Transportation Safety Board launched a two-day hearing to renew its call for all civilian planes to be equipped with crash-resistant cockpit image recorders. Four years ago, the NTSB recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration require large aircraft to be equipped with cameras, but the FAA has not done so. Subsequently, the NTSB added small planes to its recommendation.

-- From News Services