Radiologists seek to halt imaging reimbursement cuts

It looks as if budget issues are continuing to curtail the wider use of CT and MRI scans for crucial cancer and other screenings, a cumulative effect of $6 billion in federal reimbursement reductions since 2007. These reductions were an attempt to control spiraling costs and boost efficiency, but as Bloomberg reports, radiologists who conduct these procedures are fighting back. And we can expect that imaging equipment makers are paying close attention.

Here's the deal: National trade groups representing radiologists and others are actively lobbying for support of new legislation that would reverse the latest hit, a new CMS policy that began only in January intended to save about $100 million. In short, each time a Medicare patient undergoes more than one MRI scan on any given day, that doctor's reimbursement drops 25%. Republican Texas Rep. Pete Olson and Democratic Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum co-sponsored legislation to reverse the policy and launch an independent cost analysis before the feds cut any more money.

Bloomberg points out the idea is intended to redistribute some funds to improve primary care and other medical services. But opponents say the move could discourage the use of both services when patients suffer major strokes or accident injuries. Cancer patients may also face limited options because they require repeat imaging services to confirm their disease has spread, according to the story.

Of course, this also cascades to the imaging industry itself. In light of continued reimbursement cuts, for example, mammography centers in the U.S. now number 8,624, a 209-center decline that took 1,319 breast cancer scanners out of commission, according to data cited by Bloomberg. While we don't know how many shut-down facilities had MRIs or CT scanners, radiologist Robert Rapoport told Bloomberg the declines are hitting all imaging centers.

And if radiologists are paid less to perform an MRI or CT scan, then it is not surprising that their use, maintenance, replacement and upgrade gets cut back. Rapoport's story offers an example of this. He told Bloomberg that just two years ago, he'd spend about $1 million to replace a decade-old open MRI machine. But he can't do that today, he claims, because of current reimbursement rates. (By the way, GE Healthcare, Hitachi, Philips and Siemens are among a large number of companies who manufacture MRI machines.)

- here's the Bloomberg story