Bending the cost curve: a unique collaboration between radiation oncologists and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts to optimize the use of advanced technology

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Radiation Oncology

Publication Date


Document Type



*Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance Plans; Cooperative Behavior; Health Care Costs; Health Services Research; Humans; Massachusetts; Neoplasms; Outcome Assessment (Health Care); Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated; Reimbursement Mechanisms


Health and Medical Administration | Health Services Administration | Neoplasms | Oncology | Radiology | Therapeutics


PURPOSE: Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) limits the dose of radiation to critical normal tissue structures and can be applied to the management of most cancers treated with radiation therapy. Because of increased treatment planning time and quality assurance, IMRT is costly. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA) and the Massachusetts Radiation Oncology Physicians Advisory Council (PAC) developed a strategy to develop standards for the appropriate use of IMRT.

METHODS: Normal tissue volume guidelines were established in multiple oncology disease areas and body site regions. Guidelines were activated in September 2011, and the use of IMRT per case was tracked quarterly by BCBSMA staff.

RESULTS: During the first year of activation of the volume-based guidelines, use of IMRT decreased by 17% in Massachusetts, in contrast to a 20% increase during the previous year.

CONCLUSIONS: The normal tissue-based guidelines have decreased the use of IMRT in Massachusetts; increased the use of 3D treatment; continued communication between treating radiation oncologists and an insurance organization responsible for cost and quality in medicine; increased cost savings; enabled an efficient appeal process; and provided optimal, cost-effective patient care. This may prove to be an effective model for other disciplines and other developing and maturing radiation technologies.

DOI of Published Version



J Oncol Pract. 2014 Sep;10(5):e321-7. doi: 10.1200/JOP.2014.001473. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of oncology practice / American Society of Clinical Oncology

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID