Decreases in Radiation Oncology Medicare Reimbursement Over Time: Analysis by Billing Code

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2022 Sep 1;114(1):47-56. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2022.05.018. Epub 2022 May 22.


Purpose: Radiation oncology (RO) has seen declines in Medicare reimbursement (MCR). However, there are no recent studies analyzing the contributions of specific billing codes to overall RO reimbursement. We compared total MCR for specific Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) codes in 2019 with MCR for those codes in 2010 and 2015, corrected for inflation, to see how the same basket of RO services in 2019 would have been reimbursed in 2010 and 2015 (adjusted MCR).

Methods and materials: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Physician/Supplier Procedure Summary database was used to obtain MCR data for RO HCPCS codes in 2010, 2015, and 2019. For each code, the total allowed charge was divided by the number of submitted claims to calculate the average MCR per claim in 2010, 2015, and 2019. The 2019 billing frequency for each code was then multiplied by the inflation-adjusted average MCR for those codes in 2010 and 2015 to determine what the MCR would have been in 2010 and 2015 using 2019 dollars and utilization rates. Results were compared with actual 2019 MCR to calculate the projected difference.

Results: Total inflation-adjusted RO MCR was $2281 million (M), $1991 M, and $1848 M in 2010, 2015, and 2019 respectively. This represents a cut of $433 M (19%) and $143 M (7%) from 2010 and 2015, respectively, to 2019. After utilization adjustment, total reimbursement was $2534 M, $2034 M, and $1848 M for 2010, 2015, and 2019, respectively, representing a cut of $686 M (27%) and $186 M (9%) from 2010 and 2015, respectively, to 2019. Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) treatment delivery and planning accounted for $917 M (36%), $670 M (33%), and $573 M (31%) of the adjusted MCR in 2010, 2015, and 2019, respectively.

Conclusions: Medicare reimbursement decreased substantially from 2010 to 2019. A decline in IMRT treatment reimbursement was the primary driver of MCR decline. When considering further cuts, policymakers should consider these trends and their consequences for health care quality and access.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Databases, Factual
  • Fees and Charges
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health, Reimbursement
  • Medicare
  • Physicians*
  • Radiation Oncology*
  • United States