Havre Daily News: Cancer center gets reprieve on rule

A new federal requirement that could have caused serious problems for the Hi-Line cancer center in Havre has been delayed for a year, with rural and small-treatment center representatives being added to the panel that will review the requirement.

“This is a step in the right direction, ” Northern Montana Health Care Foundation Executive Director Christen Obresley said this morning.

The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had set a requirement in its 2012 regulations that a radiation oncologist must be present when a patient receives radiation treatment.

At the Hi-Line Sletten Cancer Center in Havre, a satellite of the Sletten Cancer Institute in Great Falls, cancer patients now travel to Great Falls, where an oncologist sets their treatment program and where they receive their first treatment. Subsequent treatments are at the Havre center.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont, sent a letter Oct. 5 to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, saying the rule would harm rural centers in general and the Havre Sletten Center in particular.

“In rural areas such as Montana, clinics operate as satellites for fully staffed cancer centers in order to provide care in regions where … having a radiation oncologist on-site is not feasible, ” Tester wrote. “If patients needing radiation therapy can’t continue to use these satellite clinics, they will be be forced to drive an additional 115 miles each way for treatment. This will further exacerbate health disparities that are already present. ”

Tester requested that Sebellius implement a permanent rural exemption, specifically that facilities more than 50 miles from another cancer treatment facility be allowed to provide radiation treatment without an oncologist on-site.

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