Patient Advocates Come to the Aid of Imaging

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As elected officials hunt for possible savings in the Federal budget to fund various end-of-year priorities — including at least a temporary fix to for the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) cuts to Medicare physician reimbursement scheduled for January 1 — it is vital that policy makers have a correct picture of current levels of imaging utilization, says Brian Connell, director of Government Relations for the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA).

With new MITA data in hand showing a substantial drop in imaging utilization rates and spending in recent years, patient advocates brought together by the Access to Medical Imaging Coalition (AMIC) made 80 visits at the Washington offices of elected officials last week. They also delivered a letter to the Congressional leadership urging them to protect advanced medical imaging and radiation therapy services against further reimbursement cuts and radiology benefit manager (RBM) and prior authorization proposals that would limit patient access to care.

The patient advocates belonged to 22 different organizations encompassing a range of different cancer types. But they had all seen first-hand the importance of advanced medical imaging in their diagnosis and treatment and were concerned that further cuts to medical imaging reimbursement might harm their care and the care of patients like them.

A new study from MITA announced in conjunction with the lobbying effort showed that Imaging utilization per Medicare beneficiary has declined by 5.12% since 2009. In addition, since 2006, spending on imaging services per Medicare beneficiary has dropped 16.7%. This is in contrast to Medicare spending on non-imaging services, which has grown 21.3% since 2006.

“So often people in Washington have green eyeshades on. They only see figures,” Connell said. “Having these people come in and put a face on the numbers was extraordinarily impactful.”

According to Connell, the patient advocates on the Hill last week included both cancer survivors and patients currently being treated for cancers. This helped AMIC’s message and MITA’s new data on utilization get heard in a year when many other health care industry groups also are advocating against cuts to their particular services and specialties.

“We had people who were in treatment come, and for them to take time away from their treatment regimen and overcome fatigue to be there, you can't help but be affected,” he said.

Besides being the only group that has endured eight cuts in six years, imaging also stands out as being one of the few groups that can say they can lower overall health care costs by reducing the number of unnecessary surgeries and missed diagnoses, Connell says.

“The key thing that differentiates us is that we are in ourselves a solution,” he says. “We can help save money in the system.”

Read the letter AMIC delivered to the Congressional leadership here.