CMS Could Make Significant Cuts to Mammography Services

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I visited the great city of Chicago back in April for RBMA’s PaRADigm annual meeting. It was a terrific conference overall, but one moment in particular stands out.

During Melody Mulaik’s presentation on coding updates for 2017, she told the audience that CMS is considering a potential 50-percent payment reduction to the technical component of mammography services. Changes to those technical component RVUs could have technically come around this year, but CMS decided against the cuts—for now.

Suzanne Taylor, BS, former RBMA president and a current member of the RBMA Federal Affairs Committee, was seated just a few rows behind me at the session. When the topic came up, she raised her hand and stood to address the room. Taylor shared that the committee is concerned about these potential cuts and it would be sending a letter out to every RBMA member with additional information.

“As a consumer and as a breast cancer survivor, I’m very concerned about access and I want to feel confident that the access is going to be there for myself, for my daughter and for my granddaughters,” Taylor told me later. “And at RBMA, we feel so strongly about this as an organization that we feel it is important for every member to hear this and be a part of what we hope is a solution.”

I had read about the possibility of these cuts a handful of times already, but hearing them discussed then and there made it all more real. Judging by the bewildered looks I saw around the room, I was not alone in my concern.

Modern mammography’s ability to identify and reduce breast cancer incidence and mortality is one of radiology’s greatest success stories, and making cuts to RVUs related to basic mammography services in 2018—or 2019 or 2020, for that matter—is a bad idea. Patients already face an uphill battle when it comes to mammography due to inconsistent “expert” recommendations and mixed signals from physicians. Paying specialists less to provide those services could only make that situation worse.

In another decade or so, if digital breast tomosynthesis is as common as some in the industry think it could become, would the 50-percent payment reduction to mammography services make sense? Perhaps. But we’re not there yet. Making these cuts any time in the immediate future would be a huge mistake, and I hope it is one Seema Verma, our newest CMS administrator, does not make.

Thanks for reading.