Cancer patients will soon feel the brunt of budget cuts in Washington D.C.
Oncologists in Tampa are warning their Medicare patients that expensive drugs will be harder to come by in local clinics, because they are not being reimbursed at the same rates after sequestration cuts.
For patients like Lois Watson, 70, those chemotherapy drugs are the difference between life and death. One drug in particular - Retuxin - is particularly effective for her.
"It's really a wonder drug, a very expensive wonder drug," she said.
At $8,000 per treatment, the drug keeps her non-curable lymphoma at bay, giving her the strength to live a normal life.
"I can't imagine being without it," she said. "I get the drug every three months."
But Watson may have to switch drugs or go to a hospital for treatment in the future. Her clinic is one of many across the country that says it may not be able to afford to buy expensive chemotherapy drugs any more.
That's because sequestration cuts also cut how much the government reimburses doctors for the costs of treatments.
"We cant recover the cost anywhere else," Dr. Michael Diaz with Florida Cancer Specialists said. "And so instead of going into the red, instead of making it so our clinic is non-viable, we simply have to send our patients elsewhere for treatment."
For Watson, that could mean going to a hospital, which she said would cost her thousands of dolalrs extra out of her own pocket every year.
"It makes me angry," she said. "How do they have the right to dictate what my health care is?"
Diaz is sending letters out to his patients, warning them about the impending changes. He said those changes will affect Medicare patients across the board.
"Some clinics have just decided we can't treat Medicare patients anymore," he said. "It will progressively affect more and more clinics. This is not something that will just stop."
That is, unless change comes to Washington, which is something Watson is relying on so she can continue to have easy access to the drug she said she can't live without.
Florida Cancer Specialists said they are not turning away patients just yet. They are evaluating the situation on a case-by-case basis, and expect to see changes in six months or so.
However, experts say smaller clinics in our area could see the impact within a month. Some doctors in rural areas are already considering closing their doors.