ACR attempts to avoid DRA D-Day

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA), which was signed into law in early February by President Bush, has the now booming imaging center industry reeling and fearful that not only is the fun over, but that the new rules might very well spell doom. In fact, at this week’s Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA) 2006 Radiology Summit in Miami, Fla. the anticipated beginning of the DRA in January 2007 was referred to as “D-Day” by many attendees.

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. Before it goes into effect, the HHS will have to interpret some areas which are as yet undefined, such as how the DRA will impact interventional procedures, radiation oncology, PET and PET/CT.

These cuts were targeted because diagnostic imaging has seen big rises in Medicare Part B spending in recent years, which includes patients that receive frequent or complex imaging, said Josh Cooper, senior director, Government Relations, American College of Radiology (ACR), during an RBMA presentation.

This is no laughing matter for imaging centers because the anticipated hits to certain types of imaging exams are likely to be massive, meaning that imaging centers will likely be closed, and many jobs could be lost, said Cooper. Beyond that, patients could very well find that it will be harder to find facilities that offer certain kinds of exams.

To get an understanding of the scope of the likely financial impact of DRA in each area, Cooper said that MRI would take a 35 percent hit translating to $490 million in lost revenue throughout the industry; Nuc Med would see a 16 percent decline or $136 million loss; CT would revenue would go down 9 percent, or $69 million. The list of similar woes and consequences goes on from there.

Not taking this lying down, the ACR has defined several courses to try to counter the DRA in order to see its repeal, or at least to “kick it down the road” and delay it, Cooper said. One of the tactics is to revisit member of Congress to explain to them the ACR’s belief that the DRA is shortsighted and will be highly destructive. The ACR is looking for formal commitments from Congress members on this.

The ACR also is hoping to build a ground swell of grassroots support to help make this matter a high priority to lawmakers, and to this end is doing letter writing and phone campaigns, and trying to build alliances within the imaging community, among other strategies.

“Our ultimate goal is to repeal this” or at the least delay it for now, said Cooper. The proper legislative vehicle to attach what will essentially be a counter-measure to DRA must also be located, if they can find support with lawmakers. One possibility is actually a Health IT bill that might reach a vote by year’s end, Cooper said, adding that he believed that “we’ve got our work cut out for us and this will be a tough fight.”

ACR’s hope is that a vote will take place by December so that business managers will be able to plan for what will take place in 2007.