Senate bill seeks to delay, kill DRA payment cuts

May 11, 2007

A bipartisan bill calling for a two-year freeze on imaging payment rate reductions included in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 was introduced in the U.S. Senate May 8. The legislation comes on the heels of a similar bill introduced by the House in February.

A bipartisan bill calling for a two-year freeze on imaging payment rate reductions included in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 was introduced in the U.S. Senate May 8. The legislation comes on the heels of a similar bill introduced by the House in February.

Senators John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) and Gordon H. Smith (R-OR) introduced the Access to Medicare Imaging Act of 2007. The bill asks for a comprehensive Government Accountability Office study to analyze the impact of the DRA cuts on patient access to medical imaging. SB 1338 was cosponsored by 14 senators, including Tom Harkin (D-IA), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and John Cornyn (R-TX).

The American College of Radiology issued a statement by ACR board of chancellors chair Dr. Arl Van Moore asking the Senate and House to pass the legislation before drastic DRA cuts irreparably damage patient access to care.

The ACR also called on the Senate to support the imaging community's efforts to get the DRA off the books, said Cynthia Moran, the ACR's assistant executive director of government relations and health policy.

"We have a fairly united imaging community that goes across all the significant provider groups, and all say the same thing: The DRA is a public policy disaster, and Congress needs to rethink it," Moran said.

The ACR considers the bill a significant first step toward a bipartisan discussion in the House and Senate on rethinking the DRA imaging provisions. The bill should also allow further analysis of what the ACR and its allies in public and private institutions deem proper imaging utilization and reimbursement, Moran said.

"We are going to spend a lot of effort and time spreading this word and trying to garner more bipartisan support for legislation to either put a moratorium on the DRA or come up with alternative policies that will ensure that there is appropriate utilization and reimbursement of complex imaging modalities," she said.

The ACR notes the Government Accounting Office study requested in the bill is crucial to answering questions that arose during July 2006 congressional testimony from the heads of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. Neither CMS nor MedPAC had recommended the DRA cuts or conducted studies on their effect on patient access to care before the DRA was signed into law.

These cuts may discourage research and development of new imaging technologies and may be particularly detrimental to Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas, said Shawn Farley, ACR's communications manager.

The supporters of DRA-related cuts argue that cost savings from changes in the payment formula for outpatient imaging will help Medicare achieve Congressional mandated budget neutrality and slow the rapid growth of outpatient imaging utilization.

The $8 billion in imaging cuts were prematurely added to the DRA to meet a budget target. They were not based on sound public policy or debated by Congress, Rockefeller said.

"Physicians need imaging technology to ensure the best possible health outcomes for their patients, and they deserve to be fairly compensated for providing their patients access to this revolutionary technology," he said.

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archives:

Legislation proposes moratorium, while study alleges flaws in imaging payment reductions

2007 Reimbursement guide: What you need to know

Congress finds money for physicians at imaging's expense

Imaging community maintains pressure to stave off payment cuts