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Cancer Group Flagged as Outlier

A Florida oncology group is a major prescriber of the anemia drug Procrit, even though it has been tied to tumor growth and quicker death among cancer patients, the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall alert).

The newspaper’s analysis of Medicare data from 2012 found that one-sixth of the $128 million the program paid for Procrit went to Florida Cancer Specialists, based in Fort Myers.

Eleven of the 20 oncologists who received the largest payments for the controversial drug are part of that practice group.

The Journal’s analysis of Medicare billing data shows the 104 doctors in the group prescribed Procrit for 11 percent of their patients. That rate is significantly higher than the 6.2 percent prescribing rate for other oncologists in the country prescribed Procrit or a similar drug, the Journal reports.

 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration started issuing warnings about Procrit in 2007, and has sharply restricted the coverage for it in cancer patients, according to the Journal.

Florida Cancer Specialists president William Harwin told the Journal the Medicare data appear flawed, and that his group follows appropriate guidelines for administering and billing related to the drug. While use of the drug has dropped significantly since 2007, it is used for patients with kidney disease or rare blood disorders, the Journal reports.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.