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Here’s a surprising contention: Medicare has already cut spending on imaging too much.

It comes from the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA), a trade group for makers of medical imaging equipment. So perhaps it’s not so surprising.

MITA said in a Wednesday news release that, according to its own analysis of Medicare data, spending on imaging for each Medicare beneficiary has decreased 13.2 percent since 2006. In addition, the release said, imaging utilization per beneficiary decreased by 3 percent in 2010. Spending for Medicare services other than imaging has increased by 20 percent since 2006, and overall utilization increased by 2 percent in 2010, MITA said.

David Fisher, MITA’s executive director, said the reduction in imaging spending and use may be harming Medicare patients:

It is unsettling to see these accelerating declines in Medicare beneficiaries’ use of medical imaging services during a time of tremendous advances in imaging and radiation therapy technologies, which have become increasingly integral to medical best practices and early disease detection. This disconnect raises serious concerns about whether or not patients are receiving the care they need.

Somehow, we can’t see the congressional “super committee” bursting out of its phone booth, or its locked meeting room, or wherever it’s been thrashing out deficit-reduction proposals, and saying, “Sure, cut spending on Social Security, the military, our salaries, and everything else, but we really need to increase Medicare spending on imaging.”

Still, as MITA points out, imaging reimbursements have been cut seven times in six years, with payments for such services as bone density screenings, arm and leg artery X-rays, and brain MRI reduced by more than 60 percent. And further cuts have been proposed. Are Medicare patients in fact now getting second-rate care … well, maybe that’s too strong; let’s say suboptimal care in terms of imaging?

MITA also quotes John A. Patti, MD, chair of the American College of Radiology Board of Chancellors, as saying, “Current evidence, including this analysis, debunks the myth that imaging is significantly overused and somehow responsible for escalating health-care costs.”

Dr. Patti adds:

According to these data, the goal of bending the cost curve has indeed been achieved for medical imaging. Any further reductions would represent socially irresponsible policy.

Of course, the fact that a piece of legislation might be socially irresponsible has never stopped Congress before.

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