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Members of Congress criticize Medicare medical imaging cuts

by Nancy Ryerson, Staff Writer | December 21, 2012
Congressman Jim Gerlach (R-PA)
was one author of the letter to the House.
Seventeen members of Congress showed their support for medical imaging in a letter to House leadership today. The bipartisan letter expressed concern over cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates that the representatives fear will reduce imaging access to seniors and stall new equipment manufacturing jobs.

Led by Congressman Jim Gerlach (R-PA) and Congressman Gene Green (D-TX), the letter explains that per beneficiary spending on imaging services has dropped 16.7 percent since 2006, according to 2011 Medicare claims. Utilization of imaging services, meanwhile, has fallen 5.1 percent since 2009.

Brian Connell, director of government relations for the Medical imaging and Technology Alliance, told DOTmed News that the original cuts were made in reaction to the breakthroughs and strong growth in medical imaging in the early 2000s.

"They looked at that old data and thought, okay, imaging is growing fast, so let's reduce those payments," said Connell. "What the congressman has done successfully is to just inform the debate with the fact that we're in a very different climate than we were seven years ago when these cuts started."

Today, imaging is the slowest growing of all physician services among privately insured Americans, according to the Health Care Cost Institute.

Connell, as well as the signing members of Congress, worry that seniors will not have access to top imaging technologies, in part because facilities will not be able to update to new equipment.

"Our concern is that we've had all of these new innovations on reducing dose in the past five years or so, but meanwhile, these Medicare reductions have meant that facilities are holding on to that older equipment longer," said Connell.

The letter authors agree that Medicare "must control costs in order to preserve this important program for our children" but hope that imaging can be better supported.

"I think Congressman Green and Congressman Gerlach have been real champions in that they've been big advocates for the fact that congress needs to be focused on evidence driven decision," said Connell. "What that means is looking at what's actually inappropriate in Medicare, rather than cutting imaging."

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