Benchmarking the Radiation Oncology Alternative Payment Model: Changes in Medicare Reimbursement for 16 Common Radiation Therapy Treatment Courses

Jacob S. Hogan, Patricia Karraker, Benjamin W. Fischer-Valuck, Neha Vapiwala, Minesh P. Mehta, Carlos A. Perez, John C. Baumann, Jeffrey D. Bradley, Brian C. Baumann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Radiation oncology (RO) has seen declines in Medicare reimbursement (MCR) in the past decade under the current fee-for-service model. Although studies have explored decline in reimbursement at a per-code level, to our knowledge there are no recent studies analyzing changes in MCR over time for common RO treatment courses. By analyzing changes in MCR for common treatment courses, our study had 3 objectives: (1) to provide practitioners and policymakers with estimates of recent reimbursement changes for common treatment courses; (2) to provide an estimate of how reimbursement will change in the future under the current fee-for-service model if current trends continue; and (3) to provide a baseline for treatment episodes in the event that the episode-based Radiation Oncology Alternative Payment Model is eventually implemented. Specifically, we quantified inflation- and utilization-adjusted changes in reimbursement for 16 common radiation therapy (RT) treatment courses from 2010 to 2020. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Physician/Supplier Procedure Summary databases were used to obtain reimbursement for all RO procedures in 2010, 2015, and 2020 for free-standing facilities. Inflation-adjusted average reimbursement (AR) per billing instance was calculated for each Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System code using 2020 dollars. For each year, the billing frequency of each code was multiplied by the AR per code. Results were summed per RT course per year, and AR for RT courses were compared. Sixteen common RO courses for head and neck, breast, prostate, lung, and palliative RT were analyzed. AR decreased for all 16 courses from 2010 to 2020. From 2015 to 2020, the only course that increased in AR was palliative 2-dimensional 10-fraction 30 Gy, which increased by 0.4%. Courses using intensity modulated RT saw the largest AR decline from 2010 to 2020, ranging from 38% to 39%. We report significant declines in reimbursement from 2010 to 2020 for common RO courses, with the largest declines for intensity modulated RT. Policymakers should consider the significant cuts to reimbursement that have already occurred when considering future reimbursement adjustment under the current fee-for-service model or when considering mandatory adoption of a new payment system with further cuts and the negative effect of such cuts on quality and access to care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e389-e394
JournalPractical Radiation Oncology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023


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