According to a study from the Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute published recently in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, nearly 24 percent of eligible radiologists qualified for Medicare Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) bonuses in 2010. The number of eligible, participating, and incentive-qualifying radiologists has increased in each of the program's first four years, from 2007 to 2010. The 10,450 radiologists who qualified for incentives in 2010 represented more than a five-fold increase over the 2,026 who qualified in 2007. Mean incentive bonuses for those who qualified ranged from $2,811 for diagnostic radiologists to $12,704.38 for radiation oncologists.
But if just 24 percent of eligible radiologists qualified for PQRS incentive bonuses in 2010, that means that 76 percent did not. And as Richard Duszak, M.D., CEO of the Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute and an author on the study points out in the article, in 2015 bonuses are going to be replaced by a penalty equal to up to 1.5 percent of Medicare charges that will be imposed on physicians who don't successfully report quality data for 2013. That penalty increases by another 0.5 percent in 2016.
"Without physician, practice or program changes, more than 75 percent of radiologist may face mean penalties of at least $2,654 in 2016, totaling an estimated $111,393.067 for the entire profession," Duszak and his colleagues said. By 2016 the financial impact on individual radiologists could range from $2,654 for diagnostic radiologists to $8,039 for radiation oncologists.
Even though radiology continue to be among the most lucrative specialties, the loss of that kind of income is nothing to sneeze at, particularly for a specialty that, according to the 2012 American Medical Group Association (AMGA) 25th Annual Medical Group Compensation and Financial Survey, saw incomes drop.
In addition to the potential loss of income in the form of penalties, radiologists also will have to deal with the fallout from the government's plan to publicly report the performance of individual physicians. I agree with Duszak and his colleagues that the circumstances should prompt speedy action from those who seek to avoid penalties.