Radiologists anticipated that the recently passed Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 would reduce the fees for imaging studies of contiguous body parts taken in the same imaging session, and they were right. Those fees are due to decline 25% next year and 25% the year after that. But what they hadn’t bargained for was across the board cuts for outpatient imaging beginning in 2007.
As usual The American College of Radiology (ACR) is blaming other physicians (in this case cardiologists and orthopods) for its troubles and warning of dire consequences (Medicare patients won’t be able to get their scans read, rural patients won’t be able to be seen). The ACR is also claiming that radiologists are being robbed in order to eliminate the proposed 4.4% rate reduction for physician payments overall.
Before you start feeling too sorry for radiologists, remember that many earn ~$500,000 working regular hours, while internists typically make a third of that in tougher conditions.
If Medicare really wants to save money on imaging, it should allow overseas physicians to read US studies. Images are digital, the transmission and interpretation technology already exist, and there are plenty of well-qualified Indian and now Chinese radiologists. That could cut the cost of interpreting the images by 75% or so.
Diagnostic imaging is a large and rapidly growing expense for the health care system, and a major driver of revenue and profitability for physicians, hospitals, and equipment makers. As a result the imaging industry is starting to undergo the same level of scrutiny by payers, policymakers, and consumers as the pharmaceutical industry.December 23, 2005