Medicare payments for imaging plummet

Cuts in Medicare spending as a result of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2006 have helped drive down Medicare payments to providers for imaging procedures, but it remains uncertain if that will satisfy regulators, according to a study in the September Journal of the American College of Radiology.

The study found Medicare Part B spending on non-invasive radiology procedures rose from $5.92 billion in 2000 to $11.9 billion in 2006, more than doubling in little more than half a decade. After rising slightly in 2008, spending on this segment of radioliogy has since decreased to $9.46 billion in 2010, a total drop of 21 percent.

Meanwhile, Medicare payments to radiologists declined from $5.3 billion in 2006 to $4.7 billion in 2010, an 11 percent decline.

Cardiologists also experienced a significant decline in imaging payments from Medicare, peaking in 2006 at just under $3 billion, and then declining to barely under $2 billion in 2010, a decline of 35 percent. Payments to internal medicine specialists for imaging dropped by 16 percent during the same time frame. Both of those specialties saw their imaging payments more than double between 2000 and 2006.

The JACR study examined Medicare physician/supplier procedure master files to track spending. According to Health Imaging, cuts in Part B radiology reimbursement also were accompanied by self-education by providers as when to more appropriately order imaging.

"Hopefully, this will assuage the concerns of federal policymakers, and they will decide that no further reimbursement cuts are necessary," said the study authors, researchers from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. "We also believe there are better ways to further control imaging utilization and costs. Meaningful tort reform, especially through limitation of noneconomic damages, would be one fruitful approach," they said.

To learn more:
- here's the JACR study
- read the Health Imaging article