Grassley bill seeks transparency with imaging self-referrals

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Grassley hopes to crack down on physician self-referrals for imaging. Source: U.S. Air Force  

Sen. Charles Grassley from Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, introduced legislation on July 25, which would amend the Stark Law, requiring physicians to disclose their financial interest in certain imaging services provided through the in-office ancillary exception.

The bill, S. 3343, or the Medicare Imaging Disclosure Sunshine Act of 2008, also would provide patients with a list of alternative imaging providers in the area.

The Finance Committee holds jurisdiction over Medicare issues. If approved, the requirement would become effective Jan. 1, 2010.

In a statement on the Senate floor, Grassley said that the “recently-enacted Medicare bill requires accreditation for providers of the technical component of advanced diagnostic imaging services such as MRI, CT scans and PET, and it establishes a demonstration project to assess appropriate physician use of these services. However, Mr. President, the legislation regrettably fails to address an issue that has contributed significantly to the rapid growth in Medicare spending for imaging services: physician self-referrals for imaging services in their offices and in facilities where they own or lease advanced imaging equipment.”

Citing the recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, Grassley said that Medicare spending for imaging services grew from $6.89 billion in 2000 to $14.11 billion in 2006. During the same time, the percentage spending on imaging services provided in physician offices grew from 58 percent (about $4 billion) in 2000 to 64 percent (about $9 billion) in 2006.

“The Medicare Imaging Disclosure Sunshine Act will provide another necessary tool to address the significant increase in Medicare spending for in-office imaging services by providing more transparency and shedding some light on physician referrals to facilities and medical imaging equipment they own,” Grassley concluded.

The American College of Radiology (ACR) said it applauds Grassley’s effort and is encouraged that self-referral is being recognized at the highest levels of Congress. The college said it views the legislation as a first step and will continue to work with Grassley and other lawmakers to thoroughly address the issue of financially-motivated imaging.