New bill aims to delay Medicare imaging payment reductions

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Last week two U.S. Senators Gordon Smith (R-OR) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced a bipartisan piece of legislation (S 3795) that seeks to prevent a portion of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA) aimed at medical imaging payment reductions from going into effect on January 1, 2007. This legislation would provide a two-year moratorium on provisions which would restrict Medicare beneficiaries and delay $2.8 billion in Medicare cuts for the imaging services targeted by the DRA.
The DRA calls for cuts for Medicare reimbursements rates for imaging centers and physician offices for nearly all exams, except for diagnostic and screening mammography. These cuts were targeted because diagnostic imaging has seen big rises in Medicare Part B spending in recent years.

The new bill is essentially a Senate version of another bill introduced to the House by Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) in June called the Access to Medicare Imaging Act (H.R. 5704). Like that legislation, the Smith/Rockefellar bill also would task the Government Accountability Office with studying the impact of the DRA's payment approach on patient access, especially on those in rural settings and those that are considered medically underserved.

In regards to the bill, Rockefeller and Smith said, "Beneficiaries and their physicians rely upon imaging technologies like PET scans, MRIs and mammographies to properly diagnose and treat life-threatening health conditions. However, because of changes made in the way Medicare reimburses imaging providers, seniors' access to these vital services may soon be in jeopardy," according to a released statement to their Senate colleagues.

For its part, the American College of Radiology has come out in support of the bill stating that, "if allowed to go through, these drastic cuts may force many physicians to limit the number of Medicare patients they receive."

Another organization, the National Coalition for Quality Diagnostic Imaging Services (NCQDIS), also supports the bill. According to the organization’s Executive Director Cherrill Farnsworth, the new bill will protect patient access “while offering time to study the effects on our nation's most vulnerable patients, senior citizens."

"Congress and CMS have the tools to ensure equality by promoting policies that move beyond short-sighted reimbursement- only methodologies to quality and value-based metrics — such as those being used in the private sector — that would truly benefit beneficiaries and taxpayers alike. The imaging provisions in the DRA are not the answer," added Farnsworth.