Newly-introduced federal legislation could allow for oncology nurses to be reimbursed by the cash-strapped Medicare program for time spent educating newly-diagnosed cancer patients.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-Huntington, flanked by nurse oncologists and cancer survivors at Huntington Hospital Tuesday, announced the "Improving Cancer Treatment Education Act of 2012," which Israel introduced in the House in January.
"For me, this isn't a matter of policy or politics, this is intensely personal because a few months ago my dad received a diagnosis of lung cancer," said Israel.
It is unfair and bad public policy that oncology nurses, like those treating his father, are not reimbursed by Medicare for education services, according to Israel.
The bill, H.R. 3790, would allow Medicare reimbursement to registered nurses for time spent educating cancer patients and families about treatment plans. The legislation calls for the National Institutes of Health to continue supporting research in the area of symptom management, according to Israel.
Israel said the plan would fill a critical void 1.5 million U.S. cancer patients face between diagnosis and treatment.
In the face of a $16 trillion deficit, a heated national Medicare debate and a re-election bid in 2012, the 2nd Congressional District lawmaker said the bill is "totally" paid for.
"Nothing in the bill will require any additional spending or cuts to existing medicare service so there are other offsets," Israel told Patch.
Lawmakers from both parties and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have said Medicare is financially unsustainable, with tens of trillions more in promises than the nation can pay for, according to a Fox News report.
The proposed bill would cost Medicare $55 million in 2012, according to the Oncology Nursing Society, which supports the legislation.
"The legislation "validates the important role" of oncology nurses," said Colleen O'Brien, president of the Long Island/Queens Chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society on Tuesday.
With the median salary of oncology nurses in the U.S. at $64,175, according to salary.com, the bill calls for RN's to receive $78 extra for hourly educational sessions with cancer patients, according to Samantha Slater, Israel's communications director.
Medicare costs would rise initially as a result of the plan, but long-term savings would balance out expenditures, according to Slater. "Having the education component would cut back on the costs," she said.
Co-sponsored by Israel and Ohio Republican Patrick Tiberi, six other Democrats have signed onto the bill which currently sits in committee.
With approved legislation by both parties at a 30-year low, and a Republican-controlled House to contend with, the bill faces obstacles.
Since 2001, Israel has sponsored 144 bills, with 142 never making out of committee with two (post office name changes) successfully enacted, according to govtrack.us. The rank-and-file Democrat has co-sponsored 1,847 bills during the same time period.