As noted in this Seattle Times article, an influential independent congressional advisory group is urging lawmakers to crack down on doctors who order too many MRIs for seniors, setting off a battle with physicians and patient groups that argue that Medicare beneficiaries might suffer significant delays in treatment.
The recommendation by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, or MedPAC, would require some physicians who order a lot of MRIs, CT scans, nuclear-medicine studies and other imaging tests to obtain pre-approval from Medicare.
In its latest report, sent to Congress this week, MedPAC takes aim at doctors who order these tests inappropriately and concludes that Medicare costs for such tests are surging partly because physicians are buying their own high-tech equipment. When they can perform diagnostic tests in their offices, they pocket the profits.
How much do imaging costs impact Medicare? Imaging is one of the fastest-growing Medicare costs, rising from $6.5 billion to $11.7 billion from 2000 to 2009, according to federal figures. Industry groups say the use of imaging services declined from 2008 to 2009, but MedPAC disputes that data and counters that usage is on the rise. While a 1989 law prohibited physicians from referring patients to testing centers in which they had financial interests, it didn’t stop them from performing tests in their offices.
As a side note to this article, MCN does not own any X-ray or imaging facilities and must approve such studies when performed by consultants. Imaging and X-rays are needed in fewer than 5% of orthopedic and related IMEs performed by MCN. If you find that a particular IME physician or provider orders studies at a higher rate, questions are warranted. Does the provider have a financial interest in testing facilities or equipment and is the study truly necessary to render a credible report?