International Day of Radiology — November 8, 2012 — marks the 117th anniversary of the discovery of the X-ray and the tremendous advances in patient care made possible by radiation therapy and medical imaging exams, such as MRI and CT scans. It is also a reminder that Congress needs to pass the Diagnostic Imaging Services Access Protection Act (H.R. 3269/ S. 2347) and halt drastic cuts in Medicare funding for imaging scans. This vital legislation would preserve ready access to lifesaving imaging care and may help reduce harm to seniors already resulting from cutbacks.
Medical imaging scans have virtually eliminated exploratory surgeries, reduced unnecessary hospital admissions and often shorten hospital stays. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, access to medical imaging is directly linked to greater life expectancy. Those with greater access to scans live longer than other Americans. Yet, approximately $5 billion in Medicare imaging cuts since 2006 threatens to turn back the clock on advances against cancer and other serious illnesses, and in some cases, is resulting in physical harm to seniors.
"A Dec. 2011 study in Health Affairs found that as many as 12,000 American seniors may have suffered broken bones due to Medicare cuts in reimbursement for just one type of imaging scan (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry - "DEXA"). There have been more than $5 billion in cuts, involving many different exams, over the last six years. These injuries could be part of a larger trend of physical harm resulting from these cuts. Congress needs to act now to stop the damage to patient care that the arbitrary and blind cuts are inflicting," said Paul H. Ellenbogen, MD, FACR, chair of the American College of Radiology Board of Chancellors.
The recurring funding reductions are also forcing many imaging providers to cut back services or close. This harms access to care for not only seniors, but others who need care. For instance, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there are now more than 200 fewer mammography facilities and nearly 1,200 fewer mammography scanners available to Americans than in January 2007 when massive imaging cuts began.
"The closures are likely forcing many to commute further and wait longer for appointments to receive care. This may also force seniors to pay more out of pocket in Medicare co-pays as imaging is increasingly offered only in larger hospitals where care is often more expensive. More importantly, these longer commute and wait times may delay diagnosis and treatment of illnesses and injury until the ailments are at advanced stages when they can't be as successfully or inexpensively treated. Congress needs to act now and halt this regression in health care before others are hurt or simply can't get modern imaging care in their communities" said Ellenbogen.
Most importantly, medical imaging cuts are unnecessary. Imaging is not a primary driver of health care costs. Despite an aging population that demands increasingly more health care services, a recent Neiman Institute Report, study in JACR and Moran Company report show imaging use and imaging costs are down significantly since 2006. Medicare spending on imaging scans is the same today as it was in 2003. The Health Care Cost Institute reported that imaging costs are the slowest growing of all physician services among the privately insured.
"Medical imaging exams save lives, resources and time. Scans generally cost less than the invasive surgeries that they replace and can find illnesses early — when they can be treated most effectively and inexpensively. Electronic physician order entry systems, incorporating evidence-based ACR Appropriateness Criteria®, have been shown to improve quality, reduce unnecessary scans and lower imaging costs. Anyone who contends that medical imaging is responsible for escalating medical costs is either misinformed or purposefully misinforming others. Congress needs to act to ensure that imaging is readily available to those who need care," said Ellenbogen.
American College of Radiology