Report from RBMA: Healthcare reform tantalizes a worried crowd

The healthcare system is in shambles, the economy is imploding, and radiology groups across the country are suffering. What else is new?

The healthcare system is in shambles, the economy is imploding, and radiology groups across the country are suffering. What else is new?This grim recap during the opening session May 5 of the Radiology Business Management Association summit came as no shock to the 400 or so attendees who convened at the Las Vegas Convention Center for the four-day event.Whether from large groups or small imaging operations, practice managers are all navigating a post-Deficit Reduction Act storm. "I have doctors taking a cut in pay. I've taken a cut in pay. My technologists are taking off four hours a week," said Davis Graham, who runs the only physician-owned radiology center in Bradenton County, FL. "I don't really have a question. I'm just telling you what it's like out there."His comment was directed at former Sen. David Durenberger (R-MN), whose session on the urgency of national health reform -- peppered with political sound bites and bipartisan ideals -- offered few new insights for this experienced crowd.But Durenberger, a leading voice on national healthcare issues, earned nods from the crowd when he spoke of the tension between consumer-driven healthcare versus value-based healthcare. And his point on aligning financial incentives with results where they exist was also well received."We're trying to go to geography," Durenberger said, describing a bottom-up system that recognizes the best strategies and results of local practice groups. "The purpose is to find what high performance really is and where people are being frustrated by current payment systems."He went on to inform RBMA members about a recent gathering in Minneapolis of health experts who want to draft a game plan for the next administration. The group's first priority is to find common ground among members of the House and Senate, he said. As policy leaders mull what course to take in 2009, imaging centers need to brace for disparities between specialties and incomes and even more reverberations from Medicare cutbacks, said Dr.William Jesse, Medical Group Management Association president.

Jesse pointed out the consequences if Congress doesn't act to fix the flawed formula:

  • 42% of practices will limit Medicare patients
  • 19% will close practice to new Medicare patients
  • 45% will reduce staff
  • 59% will reduce physician compensation
  • 57% will reduce health insurance for staff
  • 53% will scale back on IT investments

"I think it's ironic that people in Washington think (healthcare) problems will go away if everyone has a medical ID," Jesse said.