What Does Proton Therapy Cost?

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The cost for proton therapy varies depending upon the treating facility, the payer, and the prescribed course of treatment.  Payers can be divided into two categories:  government payers and non-government payers.

Government Payers

The largest government payer is Medicare. About half of patients at a typical proton center will have Medicare or some type of Medicare product.  Proton centers can fall under one of two categories with Medicare: hospital based or free standing.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a government agency, releases a national fee schedule each year that applies to all hospital based proton centers.  In 2013 Medicare is paying about $1,110 per day of treatment for most treatments at these facilities.

For free standing proton centers the local Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) sets the payment fee schedule. Each state has a MAC that administers coverage and payment on behalf of CMS.  These rates vary depending upon MAC and location. The MACs use Geographic Cost Pricing Index (GPCI) adjustments to help determine appropriate payment levels.  The easiest way to think about this is that it is a cost of doing business adjustment.  So a center in New Jersey would likely get paid more by their Medicare MAC than a center in Tennessee.  Other government payers include TriCare, Medicaid, and the VA.

Non-Government Payers

This category includes commercial insurance companies as well as patients paying cash out of pocket.  There are hundreds of commercial insurance companies all over the country.  The largest insurance companies, in order, are Unitedhealth Group, Wellpoint, Kaiser Foundation Group, Aetna, and Humana.  The largest insurance network is Blue Cross and Blue Shield.  Each of these payers will make an individual determination on what types of cancer they will pay to have treated with proton therapy.  They will also negotiate rates with individual centers for these treatments.

Commercial insurance companies will pay based on one of four methods:

  1. “case rate” – this is a flat rate for treatment of a disease site regardless of how many daily treatments are delivered
  2. “percent of charges” – this is a percentage of the charges billed out by the proton center
  3. “percent of Medicare” – this is a percentage of the Medicare fee schedule
  4. “fee schedule” – this is a schedule assigning a payment rate for each type of service

Conclusion

So all of this is to say that there really is no one answer to the question “how much is proton therapy?”  It is sometimes more expensive than conventional radiation therapy, but there are times when it is equal to or less than conventional radiation therapy.  It is our goal at Provision to continue to work to bring down the costs of treatment and to expand the types of disease sites that are covered by insurance companies.