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WASHINGTON — Medicare officials have taken a step toward making a cutting-edge cancer treatment called CAR-T cell therapy available in doctor offices, in anticipation of the procedure being used for increasingly common cancer types.

CAR-T is a relatively new medical procedure that uses a person’s own cells to fight their cancer, and it offers hope of a cure for those who have run out of options. It’s a complex procedure with a lot of serious side effects that must be closely monitored, so it’s typically provided at hospitals in the inpatient setting, sometimes outpatient, and almost never in doctor offices.


There are multiple barriers to offering CAR-T cell therapies in doctor offices, according to James Essell, medical director of the Blood Cancer Center at OHC and chair of cellular therapy for the US Oncology Network, a large network of independent doctors that includes OHC. Insurers restrict coverage to facilities that specialize in the procedure, and it’s financially risky for practices. Treating a few patients would require a practice to shell out well more than $1 million for the drugs alone, and the process of getting paid is arduous and not guaranteed, Essell said.

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