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We Bet We’d Prefer Watching Sausage-Making

July 1, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Practice Management
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As we prepare for America’s Independence Day holiday, some of the shenanigans happening in Washington don’t exactly inspire confidence in our current government.

On Tuesday, according to DOTmed News, a bill came before Congress to put into effect free-trade agreements with South Korea. Included was a provision that, for Medicare payment purposes, would increase the assumed utilization rates for MR and CT. The rate, currently 75 percent, would increase to 80 percent in 2012, then 90 percent in 2013.

In other words, by 2013, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would assume that advanced imaging machines are in use 90 percent of the time that imaging centers are open, or about 45 hours a week. That rate is used to set the technical component of Medicare reimbursements.

But wait, you may ask. What does Medicare reimbursement have to do with South Korean free trade?

Nothing — except that implementing the trade agreements will cost some money. Congress’s current rules require that it offset those costs by finding savings somewhere else. One “somewhere else” turned out to be Medicare reimbursements. The Access to Medical Imaging Coalition estimated that the Medicare cuts would total about $400 million.

We know what you’re thinking. But relax. By Thursday, DOTMed News reported, the imaging-reimbursement provision had disappeared from the bill. Modifications submitted by Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, substituted changes in the allocation of money derived from meaningful-use penalties. Which still doesn’t have anything to do with trade, but whatever.

The Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA), a lobbyist for manufacturers of imaging equipment, had been fighting the imaging-reimbursement provision. Regarding the question of where the utilization rates should be set, MITA’s executive director, David Fisher, said:

This should be about finding the right reimbursement to preserve health care access, not about filling a hole in an unrelated trade bill.

Well, yeah.

What is they say about never wanting to watch how sausage or legislation is made?

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