Article originally appeared on AuntMinnie.com on February 8, 2016
As part of a push to nudge U.S. healthcare providers to adopt digital radiography (DR), the Medicare system will begin reducing payments for exams performed on analog x-ray systems starting in 2017. The year after that, sites using computed radiography (CR) equipment will also see payment reductions.
Medicare payments will be reduced by 20% for providers submitting claims for analog x-ray studies starting in 2017 under a provision in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, which was enacted into law in December 2015. Starting in 2018, payments for imaging studies performed on CR equipment would be reduced by 7% for the next five years, and 10% after that.
While the law’s provisions on analog x-ray are expected to have a minor impact due to the small number of traditional systems still in operation in the U.S., the reductions in CR payments could have a much broader effect: More than 8,000 CR units are still in service in the U.S. All of these systems must be replaced or imaging facilities will experience payment reductions.
Transforming the oldest modality
The adoption of DR over the past two decades has transformed medical imaging’s oldest modality, enabling bread-and-butter x-ray images to be acquired quickly and then easily transferred into PACS for distribution, interpretation, and archiving. Before DR arrived, many facilities upgraded their x-ray equipment with CR, which replaced film-screen cassettes with imaging plates that can be carried to a reader for digital output.
The provisions inserted into the Consolidated Appropriations Act are designed to speed the transition of U.S. healthcare providers toward digital radiography by changing the Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System. Classified as a “special rule,” it specifies a 20% cut starting in 2017 to the technical component of reimbursement for an x-ray taken using film.
The cuts for CR are phased in over time, starting in 2018. Payment for the technical component of an x-ray acquired using computed radiography will be reduced by 7% during the years 2018 to 2022 and by 10% after that. Complete text of the act can be viewed by clicking here.
Origins of the provision began about a year ago, when the American College of Radiology (ACR) began working with various manufacturers, in particular Varian Medical Systems, according to Cynthia Moran, ACR’s executive vice president of government relations, economics, and health policy.
While Varian is best known for radiation therapy systems, it also manufactures DR panels for inclusion into new OEM x-ray systems and offers DR retrofits for installed analog and CR x-ray systems in the field.
The DR provision was originally inserted into the 21st Century Cures Act, legislation proposed in 2015 that among other things would have repealed the Multiple Procedure Payment Reduction (MPPR). The controversial MPPR rule was implemented by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2012 and reduced reimbursement by 25% for imaging studies performed on the same body part on the same patient in the same imaging session.
The 21st Century Cures Act passed the House of Representatives on its own, but on arrival in the Senate many of its provisions were folded into the Consolidated Appropriations Act – including the DR provision and a change in the MPPR from 25% to 5%, Moran said. The budget bill eventually passed with both provisions intact, she said, and was signed by President Obama.
ACR worked with vendors, including Varian and the Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance (MITA), on getting the DR provision inserted into the Consolidated Appropriations Act in exchange for their support in reducing the MPPR cut, Moran said.
“They supported us in us trying to get MPPR payment reduction passed, and so we partnered with them to go to Congress to see if they would do the two imaging provisions and handle them at one time,” Moran said.
While it’s tough getting any proposed legislation through Congress, Moran said the two provisions were attractive because they will save the federal government $350 million over the next 10 years. In the case of the DR provision, the savings will come from lower Medicare payments being made to hospitals operating analog and CR equipment.
How much will the legislation affect U.S. hospitals? Not much when it comes to analog x-ray, as the number of film-based systems operating in the U.S. has fallen to miniscule levels, according to market research firm IMV Medical Information Division.
In its 2013 x-ray market report, IMV projected that fixed analog general x-ray rooms made up…
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