Senate Finance Committee TAA Proposal Imposes Arbitrary Cuts, Will Restrict Patient Access, AMIC Says

Main Category: Medicare / Medicaid / SCHIP
Article Date: 30 Jun 2011 – 1:00 PDT

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The Access to Medical Imaging Coalition (AMIC) said today the Senate Finance Committee proposal to drastically reduce Medicare payments for critical screening and diagnostic imaging services will further harm patient access to care in their communities, causing delays in diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening illnesses, including heart disease and cancers. The $400 million in proposed Medicare cuts would be used to pay for an extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, included in a pending free trade agreement with South Korea.

“Enacting Medicare cuts to pay for other programs will damage seniors’ access to early detection and diagnostic services,” said Tim Trysla, executive director of AMIC. “Further dramatic reductions to payments for critical screening and diagnostic services-400 million dollars, on top of the billions of dollars in cuts that have been imposed every year since 2006-can’t be sustained by physician practices that provide these services in the community, nor by the seniors whose health and lives depend upon them. Funding other programs on the backs of seniors’ health care access is harmful policy.”

In a letter to the Senate Finance Committee, AMIC, whose membership represents more than 100,000 physicians, medical providers, and patient organizations throughout the U.S., said that “reducing Medicare reimbursement levels for advanced imaging services that use MRI and CT equipment will make it financially very difficult for physicians to continue offering these services in the community, which will jeopardize seniors’ access to care. The potential impact is not limited to advanced imaging, though, as the consolidation and closing of imaging centers in the community will mean that standard imaging modalities like mammography, ultrasound and x-ray will also not be available. While all modalities would likely still be available in hospitals (which, for those in rural areas of the country, could be hundreds of miles away), access would be restricted by long waiting times for appointments, appointments at odd hours of the day, and long lines in the waiting room.”

AMIC also said that the bill “appears to be yet another instance where imaging services for seniors are being cut to pay for other policies, under the guise of achieving ‘appropriate’ payment rates.” Instead, AMIC urges policymakers to look at forward-thinking solutions such as promoting the adoption of imaging appropriateness criteria and allowing the imaging accreditation policy, enacted in 2008 and currently being implemented by the Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services, to work.

The letter also pointed out that apart from short-term SGR patches, there has not been a major Medicare bill or a Physician Fee Schedule rule since 2006 that did not include a substantial cut to medical imaging payments or other major policy changes. Key examples of how imaging cuts have affected reimbursements are MRI of the brain (national payment rate reduced by 60.7 percent by 2013 when all CMS cuts have been phased in), DEXA bone density testing (reduced by 67.9 percent by 2013), and CT angiography of the abdominal arteries (reduced by 38.6 percent by 2013). Payment for even a simple chest x-ray will have been cut nearly 25 percent by 2013.



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