Proposed Medicare cuts unpopular in New York
by Daniel Bush
Sep 23, 2009 | 1489 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An Obama Administration proposal to cut Medicare reimbursement rates for medical imaging services is being hotly contested by elected officials in New York City, where women and seniors already suffer long wait times for early-detection health care.

The proposal would cut funding by up to 40 percent for medical imaging techniques such as MRIs, PET and CT scans, which are used to detect cancer and other illnesses.

It is based on a proposed change to the utilization assumption of imaging machines from 50 to 95 percent recommended by the Obama Administration.

Federal findings have suggested Medicare spending for imaging services has risen. Under the proposal, the higher use rate would force a reduction in spending and help pay for national health care reform.

In New York, critics of the plan contend the cuts would deny critical early-detection services for patients, increasing wait times for time-sensitive screenings.

The cuts would result in several hundred deaths each year, according to an estimate by

Dr. Eric Schnipper, co-founder of the Emergency Coalition to Save Cancer Imaging, a coalition of New York doctors fighting the proposal.

The group appeared at a September 17th rally on the steps of City Hall, organized by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, to protest the cuts and call on Congress to remove them from any health care reform proposal. Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker, and other council members spoke at the rally.

“Medical imaging is at the forefront for early cancer diagnosis and treatment, and every day a patient has to wait for a screening the more at risk they are,” Crowley said in prepared remarks at City Hall. “We should be focused on extending access to these services not undercutting these vital programs.”

According to Crowley’s office, the average wait time for mammography screenings in Queens is four to six weeks. In Brooklyn, waits times are roughly twice as long.

Dr. Schnipper said increased wait times are due in part to a reduction in reimbursement rates, a trend driving imaging providers out of business.

The proposed cut would come on top of rate decreases resulting from the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The city has lost 67 medical imaging clinics since 1999, according to a 2007 Congressional study.

Schnipper said his coalition has estimated another 80 clinics would close if Medicare reimbursements drop. He projected this would result in approximately 400 lives lost each year for the next five years.

“The proposed cuts will only worsen what is already an extremely unhealthy situation,” said Schnipper. “These rate changes could not only cost the government and patients more money, it could cost lives.”

Paula Brown, from Brooklyn, is a 15-year kidney survivor. She said at the rally her access to early detection services saved her life. “These cuts are simply unacceptable,” Brown said.

“Medical professionals clearly advise that early detection is crucial in the fight against breast cancer and other deadly diseases,” said Quinn. “It’s incredible to think that the federal government is considering cutting life-saving technologies which have helped so many women and patients across New York City.”

Crowley and the coalition to save imaging services started a petition drive in July protesting the cuts. So far, more than 25,000 New Yorkers have signed on.
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