News | September 17, 2012

Noninvasive Diagnostic Imaging Costs to Medicare Part B Down Significantly Since 2006

According to a study in the September issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology, overall noninvasive diagnostic imaging (NDI) costs to Medicare Part B dropped 21% from 2006 to 2010. The study reveals that medical imaging is not a driver of escalating Medicare costs.

“This study confirms that medical imaging costs are down significantly in recent years and runs counter to misconceptions that imaging scans serve a primary role in rising medical costs. This study should provide lawmakers and regulators with more current information on which to base medical imaging policies and allow them to correctly focus on other areas of medicine that may be seeing rising costs,” said David C. Levin, M.D., lead author of the study.

Medicare Part B databases for 2000 to 2010 were used for the study. All NDI codes were selected. Medicare physician specialty codes were used to identify radiologists, cardiologists and all other non-radiologist physicians as a group, and independent diagnostic testing facilities. Part B NDI payment trends were tracked.

Overall, Part B spending for NDI rose from $5.921 billion in 2000 to $11.910 billion in 2006, but declined to $9.457 billion in 2010. Radiologists’ payments were $2.939 billion in 2000, rose to a peak of $5.3 billion in 2006, then dropped to $4.712 billion in 2010. Cardiologists’ NDI payments were $1.327 billion in 2000, peaking at $2.998 billion in 2006, then dropping to $1.996 billion in 2010. Other physicians’ payments were $1.106 billion in 2000, peaking at $2.378 billion in 2006, then dropping to $1.968 billion in 2010. Similar trends occurred in independent diagnostic testing facilities.

“Medical imaging costs peaked in 2006, after doctors discovered that they could diagnose, treat or rule out serious conditions more safely and efficiently using scans rather than exploratory surgeries or admitting patients who did not need to be hospitalized. But in the subsequent years, reimbursement cuts have made a big dent in imaging costs. Also, utilization tightened as providers became more educated about when and which scans to order and radiation education efforts proliferated. This study shows that imaging has matured as it serves an increasingly vital role in modern healthcare,” said Levin. 

These findings are in line with a recent Health Care Cost Institute report that shows that imaging is the slowest growing of all physician services among privately insured individuals and that Medicare imaging use — overall — is down in recent years.

For more information: www.acr.org

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