The Next Wave: Compliance With Medicare IDTF Standards Requires Ongoing Diligence

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To say that the health care regulatory environment has been active over the past two years would be an understatement. The focus of this article is Medicare: the primary payor for health care services in this country and, often, the standard by which other payors establish their payment rules. Revisions to Medicare regulations often foretell what can be expected from other payors.

Changes to Medicare regulations in the past two years have been especially challenging for IDTFs. While basic rules for IDTFs were established by CMS in 2000, consistent enforcement of these rules did not begin in earnest until 2005. With the implementation of certain aspects of the DRA and the IDTF standards in 2007, IDTFs have experienced an almost exponential growth in regulatory pressures. In order to succeed, IDTF providers must actively seek to stay current in the ever-changing Medicare regulatory environment.

In July 2008, CMS issued proposed changes to the IDTF standards1 (proposed rules) that, if finalized as presented, will change the business environment for all nonhospital-based outpatient imaging providers. Couple this with impending accreditation and physician/technologist qualification requirements under the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act² enacted in July 2008, and the stage is set for significant regulatory changes in the imaging industry. While other regulatory pressures exist at federal and state levels, Medicare may be the most significant regulatory force that diagnostic imaging faces in today’s health care environment.

Regulatory Equality Evolution

The evolution of regulatory equality has been slow. Prior to the July 2008 activity, there was no regulatory equality when comparing the three main providers of diagnostic imaging services; hospitals, physician practices, and IDTFs. The table demonstrates that prior to the recent changes, imaging IDTFs were often held to a higher standard relative to their regulatory obligations as Medicare providers. Column three demonstrates the impact of the proposed regulations.

Medicare regulations are often created in response to issues that arise in our industry. These issues may relate to quality concerns, efforts to reduce costs, or past abuse of the system. Regardless of their genesis, laws, rules, and regulations are here to stay, and we are obligated to operate our businesses in a manner that seeks to comply with them. Assuming that the proposed changes to the IDTF standards are included in the final rules, physician practices performing imaging services in their offices, including radiology practices, will have to meet many of the standards that IDTFs have been meeting for the past several years. Because the rules are proposed, this article will deal only with those that are likely to be included in the final rule.

Proposed Rule: All Nonhospital Imaging Providers Will Become IDTFs
The first assumption is that any nonhospital provider of outpatient imaging services will be required to enroll the diagnostic testing portion of its practice as an IDTF. The IDTF portion of the physician practice will then have to comply with the IDTF standards found under 42 CFR §410.33 (with a few minor exceptions). The proposed exceptions for physician practices are noted below.

The first step in doing the right thing is to understand the rules. IDTF and physician-practice leaders must take the time to become knowledgeable about the Medicare rules and regulations governing their facilities. The key regulations governing diagnostic imaging and IDTFs are found at 42 CFR §410.32 (“Diagnostic X-Ray Tests, Diagnostic Laboratory Tests, and other Diagnostic Tests, Conditions”); and at 42 CFR §410.33 (“Independent Diagnostic Testing Facility”). The IDTF standards are found at 42 CFR §410.33(g).

CMS provides guidance on the IDTF regulations in its online manual system at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/Manuals/IOM/list.asp: publication 100-08, Medicare Program Integrity Manual: chapter 10, section 4.19 (Revised March 14, 2008); and publication 100-04, Medicare Claims Processing Manual: chapter 35 (new chapter, revised May 16, 2008). CMS has also developed a site-review checklist for its Medicare contractors. This form will assist you in preparation for a site visit. The form, CMS 10221, is available online at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/CMSForms/.

imageTable 1.

Each Medicare carrier or Medicare administrative contractor (MAC) has the authority to specify requirements for technologists’