Bipartisan Senate bill calls for DRA moratorium

August 4, 2006

Efforts from clinical imaging advocates to delay rather than thwart the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 were rewarded in the Senate Thursday with the introduction of a bill calling for a two-year moratorium. The piece mirrors legislation introduced in June by the House of Representatives asking the Government Accountability Office to analyze the impact of Medicare reimbursement cuts.

Efforts from clinical imaging advocates to delay rather than thwart the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 were rewarded in the Senate Thursday with the introduction of a bill calling for a two-year moratorium. The piece mirrors legislation introduced in June by the House of Representatives asking the Government Accountability Office to analyze the impact of Medicare reimbursement cuts.

The Senate's Access to Medicare Imaging Act, or S 3795, would impose a moratorium on the DRA reductions until 2009. As in HR 5704, the bill also asks for the GAO to conduct a study on the effects of the cuts on patients, especially those living in rural areas.

Senators Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced the bill. Cosponsors include Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Richard Burr (R-NC), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

The bill represents a step forward in addressing the imaging cuts included in the current DRA. It shows that members of the Senate, like those in the House, want a better understanding of exactly how the DRA payment reductions will affect patients and their ability to get the medical imaging services they need, said Tim Trysla, executive director of the Access to Medical Imaging Coalition (AMIC), a group of almost 50 organizations of radiologists, healthcare providers, patient advocates, and manufacturers.

"We applaud Senator Smith and Senator Rockefeller for taking the lead on this issue that is critical to maintaining access to life-saving medical imaging services," Trysla said. "Senators Smith and Rockefeller know well that this is especially critical for patients living in rural and other medically underserved areas in their own states and across the nation."

Maintaining access to imaging technology for Medicare beneficiaries is too important for patients and clinicians to simply allow poorly thought-out cuts to proceed without more understanding and analysis, according to Trysla.

Preliminary analyses found that 80% of the services potentially affected by the DRA limits would be paid at rates less than the estimated cost of performing the service in the physician office setting, likely leading to cutbacks and reduced availability for many services, he said.

AMIC members are particularly concerned that the imaging reductions were included in the DRA without debate. Neither Congress, MedPAC, nor any other public forum held a public hearing or meeting on the measure.

AMIC also points out that the cuts make up roughly one-third of the total Medicare savings in the bill, but imaging accounts for only about one-tenth of Medicare spending.

AMIC represents more than 75,000 providers and patients, as well as medical imaging manufacturers who employ tens of thousands of workers. Coalition members include the Academy of Molecular Imaging, the American College of Radiology, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the National Stroke Association, the Society of Interventional Radiology, and the Society of Nuclear Medicine.

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archives:

Congress grills officials about imaging benefits, costs

CMS proposes palatable change in practice expense RVUs

Congress says 'wait' on hefty reimbursement cuts

ACR lobbies Congress to freeze budget cuts for two years

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