Ocean County patients, physicians, advocacy groups and community leaders said that steep Medicare cuts proposed by Congress, as well as the Obama Administration, threaten patient access to diagnostic imaging services — in particular for our nation's seniors.
Since payment rates for Tricare, the health care system for veterans, are linked to Medicare rates, our nation's veterans and their families also risk losing access to diagnostic services in non-hospital settings.
In Ocean County — where residents suffer from the third highest cancer incidence rate in New Jersey — doctors will soon be forced to scale back or discontinue medical imaging services, due to the major reimbursement cuts recently released in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) 2010 Physician Fee Schedule.
At the same time, Congress is proposing policies that would reduce physician payments for imaging services, as well as a tax on medical devices including imaging equipment, all of which could inhibit patients' access to early disease detection and possibly turn back the clock on the war against cancer and other serious diseases.
"It's very important that all patients have access to the medical imaging they need," said Marge Medeiros, a Medicare beneficiary and patient of Ocean Medical Imaging. "A lot of patients rely on medical imaging to properly monitor various health conditions, particularly seniors. We need to be assured that we will continue to have access to high quality medical care, and medical imaging is of course a very important part of that care."
The annual tax on medical devices proposed in the House and Senate health reform bills has the potential to inflict serious, systemic and long-term harm on the quality of American health care, as it will stifle the innovation of new imaging and cutting edge cancer-therapy technologies that can detect disease earlier and personalize disease treatment, while preserving quality of life and delivering better outcomes with less radiation.
"Medical imaging is an essential technology that should be available to Americans without being cost prohibitive. Cutting reimbursements and additionally levying an excise tax on its use is detrimental to quality healthcare in this country," said Assemblyman David C. Russo (R-Bergen).
Dr. Joseph Triolo, a radiologist with Ocean Medical Imaging in Toms River, called on the New Jersey Congressional Delegation to reject both the tax and the proposals that would reduce payment rates for diagnostic imaging.
"In 2006, Congress made significant cuts to medical imaging reimbursement, and the impact of those cuts are just beginning to be felt - especially in smaller communities," said Dr. Triolo, referring to the imaging payment cuts made by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which reduced Medicare spending on advanced imaging by 19.2 percent in the first year alone. Triolo added, "Further cuts could decimate imaging services in the community, placing significant burdens on patients trying to access the diagnostic services they need. Already, patients from our surrounding communities are often forced to travel long distances to receive vital services, including mammograms. The combination of further deep cuts and a devastating new tax would force physicians to pull back services in their communities and forego upgrading to more effective equipment."
Data collected by the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA) and the American College of Radiology (ACR) appears to underscore this concern. According to their recent survey, if proposed reimbursement cuts are made:
- 36 percent of practices would consider limiting access to Medicare beneficiaries
- 25 percent would consider dropping out of the Medicare program
- 40 percent would consider consolidating service sites
- 40 percent would consider closing their center
"Another deep cut in reimbursements for diagnostic imaging will not only further curtail access to MRI and CT, but it will have the unintended consequences of curtailing access to all medical imaging as centers are forced to close their doors or cut back on their hours of operation," said Dr. Pandur Miskin, a neurologist from Brick. "CMS' rule represents the most dramatic aggregate cut of any healthcare provider class within the Medicare program over the same period of time and will devastate access to appropriate imaging."
— ANDY LAGOMARSINO, NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM