The bill, called the Access to Medicare Imaging Act, would declare a two-year moratorium on the cuts, which are scheduled to be enacted in 2007. During that time, the Government Accountability Office would analyze the effect of the cuts on Medicare patients, especially those in rural areas.
The Senate's move came after testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on July 18.
One speaker, Donald Rucker, MD, chief medical officer of Siemens Medical Solutions USA Inc. (Malvern, PA), called the proposed cuts excessive and unjustified.
“Given their size, the reductions will set off a chain reaction that will force many physicians to discontinue or greatly reduce the availability of imaging services,” said Rucker, who spoke on behalf of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. “In turn, patients will find it harder to get care, will have to travel farther, and will face long delays as they seek care in hospital outpatient departments.”
The details of the cuts show a lack of foresight, he said. Because the cuts are across-the-board, they do not target procedures that may be overused or inappropriately used and may in fact increase unsuitable uses. They have no relation to the real-world costs of providing imaging services, and don't account for cost differences in different types of settings. And, he said, they fly in the face of recent CMS efforts to make Medicare payment systems more stable and predictable.
“There isn't the degree of wasteful, out-of-control utilization [of medical imaging] that many observers suggest,” said Rucker. “Instead, [people see] the power of science to offer better views inside the human body and greater insight about a patient's condition.”