Is imaging facing 'unfair' pressures? New cuts loom for industry, group warns

Imaging coalition, patient groups sent letter to lawmakers last week

Medical imaging has been unfairly portrayed as the "poster child" for overutilization, and continued pressures on the industry—like potential Medicare cuts and barriers to access—place patients at risk, a coalition of imaging firms warned last week.

The Access to Medical Imaging Coalition (AMIC), which represents physicians, patients, and imaging companies, joined patient advocates on Capitol Hill to promote imaging’s benefits. The groups also cautioned that payers' rising use of radiology benefit managers is helping stand between patients and necessary scans.

Meanwhile, AMIC warned that reimbursement for imaging procedures continues to drop. According to Tim Trysla, AMIC’s executive director, Medicare has cut medical imaging payments eight times over the past six years, and possible legislation to fund a Medicare "doc fix" patch next year could further cut into reimbursement. A 2% Medicare payment cut that would take effect as part of the broader budget sequester also could trim imaging payments.

According to Colon Cancer Alliance's Andrew Spiegel, "[i]maging use has declined for two straight years" as a result of regulations. However, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission—which reported in March that imaging tests for Medicare patients fell 1.5% in 2010—has noted that, overall imaging use remains high.

Also last week, AMIC and 22 patient groups sent a letter to House and Senate leaders cautioning against further cuts. The letter argued that instead of "arbitrarily limiting reimbursement for imaging and radiation therapy services or imposing costly administrative barriers to care," Congress should encourage "widespread adoption of and adherence to evidence-based, physician-developed imaging appropriateness criteria."

The letter further called on Congress to stop cutting imaging payments to fund other initiatives, such as the "doc fix" (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 9/20 [subscription required]).

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