(ChemotherapyAdvisor) – The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, passed Tuesday by Congress and now awaiting President Obama’s signature, has averted – or at least delayed – the “fiscal cliff” of sudden tax hikes and federal spending cuts. But the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) is decrying as arbitrary a provision of the bill that cuts Medicare payments for a specific cancer radiotherapy treatment.

Lawmakers’ last-minute vote delayed massive “fiscal cliff” federal spending cuts by 2 months and delays Medicare sustainable growth rate (SGR) cuts until 2014. Together, the fiscal cliff and SGR cuts would have slashed Medicare reimbursements by approximately 27%. To help pay for the measures, however, the bill reduces hospital outpatient Medicare reimbursements for Cobalt 60 radiosurgery procedures to rates paid for less-expensive radiotherapies involving linear accelerator equipment.

“ASTRO appreciates Congress’ efforts to prevent Medicare physician payment cuts under the flawed sustainable growth rate formula,” said ASTRO chairman Michael L. Steinberg, MD, FASTRO. “However, we are very concerned by the arbitrary payment cuts proposed for multi-source Cobalt 60 radiosurgery, which relies on highly-skilled professionals and resource-intensive materials and equipment to deliver a critical cancer treatment.”

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Outpatient Cobalt 60 radiosurgery procedures should continue to be reimbursed at hospital cost rates, Dr. Steinberg said.

“We urge Congress to reconsider this significant payment cut, which gives providers less than three months to prepare, and instead encourage Medicare to reexamine these payment rates through the hospital outpatient payment system with significant input from stakeholders.”

The radiosurgery spending reductions will come on the heels of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)’s 7% cuts to radiation oncology services under the 2013 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS), which take effect this week.