Government Watch
CMS drops plan for additional imaging reimbursement cuts

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has abandoned its plan to adopt another 25 percent technical reimbursement cut for imaging on contiguous body parts during the same exam session. The cuts would have been part of the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule proposed rule for 2007. An initial 25 percent cut was already imposed at the beginning of 2006.

The agency reasoned that “given the expected interaction between the multiple procedure imaging policy and the further imaging payment reductions mandated by section 5102(b) of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005…along with the new information we have received from the American College of Radiology on the multiple imaging procedure policy as it applies to common combinations of imaging services, we believe it would be prudent to maintain the multiple imaging payment reduction at its current 25 percent level while we continue to examine the appropriate payment levels.”

McClennan departing as head of Medicare

Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and FDA head Mark McClellan announced plans to leave his post. No replacement has thus far been announced. The chief CMS accomplishment during his tenure was the troublesome beginnings of a prescription drug program for Medicare recipients. The plan has had several glitches, and McClennan said he would stay in his position long enough to assure the program is fully and correctly implemented. His official departure is set for this month.

Lawmakers address health-IT bill differences

Of the health-IT legislation introduced in the past year by federal lawmakers, the two biggest bills are The Wired for Health Care Quality Act of 2005 (S 1418) and The Health Information Technology Promotion Act of 2006 (HR 4157). One roadblock to the passage of this legislation is the general backup of bills currently awaiting a vote, but the other hurdle is conflicts between the bills themselves. Some health-IT experts have advocated for the bills to be combined to raise the chances of passage this year.

HIMSS released a letter to Congress stating the society’s position of support for certain provisions as well as differences needed to reconcile HR 4157 and S 1418.

Medicare to cut physician reimbursement by 5%

If the Bush Administration gets its way, new federal rules will see physicians taking a 5.1 percent reduction in reimbursement rates for Medicare patients starting in 2007.

Hospitals could see a 3 percent upshot in reimbursement for outpatient services, but this will require them to provide information to the government that shows that they are adhering to guidelines designed to improve care.

HHS announces final health IT adoption regulations

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced final regulations that will support physician adoption of electronic prescribing and electronic health records technology.

“Electronic health records help doctors provide higher quality patient care, improved efficiency and with less hassle,” Leavitt said. “By removing barriers, these regulation changes will help physicians get these systems in place and working for patients faster.”
The final rules from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Office of the Inspector General create new exceptions and “safe harbors” for two federal fraud and abuse laws regarding the donation of health IT and services.

State lawmakers investigate their role in health IT

The National Conference of State Legislatures has launched an 18-month-long project to examine state governments’ role in health IT and how legislatures can advance the adoption of electronic health records.

About 15 state legislators and staff members will guide the study project, known as Health IT Champions, or HITCh, said Kala Ladenheim, the project director. She said that the major barriers to adopting health IT are not political, not technical. Legislators could be helpful in overcoming those barriers, she said. Massachusetts State Sen. Richard Moore, Florida State Rep. Anna Benson, and Joseph Flores, fiscal analyst for the Virginia General Assembly will head the team.