House passes Medicare bill with imaging provisions, preventing physician cuts
House takes large step in passing ongoing Medicare bill. Source: ChattaBox  
The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday passed the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act, by a landslide vote of 355-59, which is intended to improve access to preventive and mental health services, enhance low-income benefit programs and maintain access to care in rural areas.

The large majority by which the bill passed provides the two-thirds margin needed to override the threatened veto by President George W. Bush.

The bill, H.R. 6331, seeks to prevent the looming 10.6 percent physician payment cut called for by Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula set to go into effect on July 1. The measure replaces the 10.6 percent cut, as well as a 5 percent cut set for Jan. 1, 2009, with a 0.5 percent positive update for the rest of the year and a 1.1 percent update through 2009.
The legislation also calls for providers of advanced diagnostic imaging services (MRI, CT, PET and nuclear medicine) to be accredited to receive payment for the technical component of those services and establishes a two-year voluntary demonstration program to test the use of physician-developed Appropriateness Criteria, according to the American College of Radiology (ACR).

Shortly after the passage of the House bill, Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, announced that they had reached a compromise in their negotiations on the Medicare legislation. 

The Senate Finance Committee has been working on a compromise measure, but the Senate Democratic Leadership may instead decide to take up the House bill if they believe it can garner the necessary votes to pass, the ACR reported.

The bill also contains the telemedicine provisions of adding skilled nursing facilities, hospital-based dialysis centers and community mental health centers as originating sites for Medicare telehealth reimbursement, according to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA). The association also said that inclusion of the telemedicine language in both the House and Senate versions of the Medicare bill makes its inclusion in the final legislation likely.