11/04/2011 12:47 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2012

Supercommittee: Don't Cut Medicare Part B

The world's wealthiest country is thinking about doing the unthinkable: slashing funds to the section of Medicare that covers vital treatments like chemotherapy for American seniors. These potentially deadly cuts must be rejected.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is looking for ways to reduce the national debt by $1.3 trillion over the next ten years, and Medicare Part B -- the portion of Medicare that provides needed medicine and treatments to the aged and disabled -- could be on the budget chopping block.

With rising deficits, we all understand that the government faces difficult choices on how to regain a strong fiscal footing. But proposals that reduce or limit funding to this vital program go against America's promise of health security for all its seniors.

Cancer treatments and other vital medical services are partially or fully covered through Part B. These are essential treatments that can only be delivered to seniors from their health care providers.

One of the many problems with considering cuts to Medicare Part B is that it has already been squeezed of funding in the recent past. In 2003, when Congress passed the Medicare Modernization Act, payments allotted for cancer drugs and other physician-administered medicines were dramatically reduced.

The health care providers who are forced to purchase these medicines directly from distributors have already experienced a significant decrease in the rate of reimbursement from Medicare. As a result, many community cancer clinics and other practices devoted to treating older Americans are experiencing financial strains that will surely limit patients' access to quality, affordable care.

Further cuts to the program could result in significant complications for our most vulnerable citizens: In the last three and a half years, at least 199 community cancer clinics have closed and 369 others are having trouble staying afloat financially. Not to mention the fact that we are facing a shortage of oncologists, leaving one in four patients by some accounts without the expert care they need and deserve.

This should be concerning not just to those who are 65 and older; it should worry the millions of Americans who will rely on the Medicare system at some point.

At the end of the day, what could be more important than the health security of our seniors? While Congress has an opportunity to make great strides in reducing the country's debt, preserving Medicare Part B's benefits should be an imperative for lawmakers whose first priority must be preserving America's vital health services.