Stimulus Talks Could Spill into Weekend as Lawmakers Scramble to Complete Deal
By Mike DeBonis, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim | December 17, 2020
Congressional leaders are trying to resolve a number of lingering policy disagreements as they race to finalize an approximately $900 billion coronavirus relief package, but numerous obstacles could push talks into the weekend.
Among the most vexing issues is whether to curb the powers of the Federal Reserve, a clash over aid for theaters and music venues, and relief for cities and states, among other things. Lawmakers have fought over many of these issues since May, but they were suddenly trying to resolve them all at once on Thursday, creating a chaotic scene with numerous lawmakers all offering different ideas, many of them unsure about the latest state of play.
Negotiators were hoping to resolve all of their differences and pass matching bills through the House and the Senate by Friday night, in order to marry the stimulus bill with a must-pass government funding package. The funding bill must be signed into law by Friday at midnight in order to avoid a government shutdown. But lawmakers are now running out of time to resolve their differences and could be forced to pass a short-term spending bill to buy them more time, dragging negotiations into the weekend or Christmas week.
To read more, go to The Washington Post.
Radiology Providers See Improvement, but Continued Concern in ‘No Surprises’ Medical Billing Proposal
By Marty Stempniak | December 17, 2020
Radiology providers say they see promise in new bipartisan, bicameral legislation to address surprise medical bills, while also expressing ongoing concerns.
Lawmakers last week unveiled the “No Surprises Act,” which would require that insurers make payments to radiologists and other providers either through negotiation between the two sides, or an “independent dispute resolution process.” In a statement issued Wednesday, the American College of Radiology said the policy framework is an “improvement” over previous proposals, including the elimination of a minimum threshold for arbitration.
However, the college “remains concerned” that plans such as Medicare, Medicaid and worker’s comp are not excluded from the independent reviewer’s consideration
“The ACR appreciates Congress’ work to protect patients from unexpected medical bills and establish a fair and equitable system to resolve physicians-insurer payment disputes,” Howard Fleishon, MD, chairman of the college’s board of chancellors, said in a Dec. 16 statement. “We urge lawmakers to engage with providers to make final improvements to the plan to gain a sensible policy that protects patients and patient access to care.”
In its own comments submitted to House and Senate leaders Wednesday, the Medical Group Management Association similarly praised the inclusion of an IDR process. But it’s worried that lawmakers are moving too fast, with some pushing to pass a bill by the end of 2020.
“We are concerned that stakeholders have had limited opportunity to thoroughly review and provide meaningful input on this consequential bill prior to inclusion in any end-of-the year legislative package,” Anders Gilberg, senior VP of government affairs for the MGMA, which represents 55,000 practice leaders across the U.S. including radiology, wrote Dec. 16. “We urge you to allow additional time for MGMA and other stakeholders to work with Congress to address concerns with certain aspects of the legislative language.”
The American Hospital Association added Dec. 14 that it “strongly supports” provisions to protect patients from surprise bills. However, it has “significant concerns” with parts of the No Surprise Act aimed at creating “unworkable billing processes and transparency provisions that are duplicative and costly without clear added benefit for patients.”
“We ask that any savings associated with this legislative initiative be directed to those providers that are on the front lines of treating COVID-19 patients, such as hospitals, physicians and nurses,” the AHA added.
To read more, go to Radiology Digest.
‘Unconscionable’: Nearly 80 Medical Societies Endorse New Senate Bill to Address Radiology Medicare Cuts
By Marty Stempniak |December 16, 2020
Almost 80 medical societies are endorsing a recently released Senate bill aimed at addressing Medicare cuts to radiology and other physician specialties, set to take effect on Jan. 1.
Organizations including the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging voiced their support for S. 5007 in a letter written to five Republican senators on Monday. The recipients last week introduced a bill to grant radiologists and other physicians add-on payments to offset reimbursement reductions slated for 2021.
The societies applauded the measure for maintaining payment increases t0 primary care and others who bill for evaluation and management services but avoiding corresponding cuts to others because of Medicare’s budget neutrality requirements.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic rages and wreaks havoc on the healthcare system, providers continue to contend with overflowing hospitals and the financial impact of the spring-summer, government-recommended shutdown of most nonurgent medical care,” the groups wrote Dec. 14. “Against this backdrop, double-digit Medicare cuts will be devastating for patients, communities and providers.”
Sens. John Boozman, R-Arkansas; Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota; Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mississippi; Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas; and Susan Collins, R-Maine, first introduced the measure on Dec. 10. In an update to members Tuesday, SNMMI noted that S. 5007 is “virtually identical” to the Holding Providers Harmless from Medicare Cuts During COVID-19 Act of 2020, previously introduced in the lower chamber. As of Friday, the companion bills had 278 supporters in the House and 51 more in the Senate, according to the American College of Radiology.
“If our heroes this year are people who wear scrubs, then it is unconscionable to hit them with Medicare cuts as a New Year’s gift,” Sen. Hyde-Smith said in a Dec. 11 statement. “This legislation needs to be passed before the holidays to provide relief to the very healthcare professionals who bear the burden of fighting this pandemic.”
Others signing the letter to legislators included the ACR, the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, the Radiology Business Management Association, the American Society of Neuroradiology, the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology, the Society of Interventional Radiology, and the American Society for Radiation Oncology.
To read more, go to Radiology Business.
Gadolinium-free Imaging Agent has Strong Potential as Preferred Contrast for MRI Exams
By Matt O’Connor | December 15, 2020
A novel manganese-based contrast agent showed new promise for reducing radiology’s reliance on gadolinium-based agents, according to a recent study published in Investigative Radiology.
Massachusetts General Hospital researchers developed the imaging agent, Mn-PyC3A, to bypass safety concerns surrounding GBCAs, including their toxicity and gadolinium reportedly remaining in various parts of the body.
This most recent investigation compared Mn-PyC3A to an older manganese-based material approved for use in liver imaging but not currently marketed. Unlike the latter, which left high amounts of residual manganese in organs including the liver and bones, the novel agent was quickly and completely eliminated from the body.
And given that prior preclinical imaging studies have shown Mn-PyC3A to be just as effective as GBCAs for visualizing blood vessels and tumors, the material could be a safer alternative for individuals undergoing MRI exams.
“This is obviously important for patients with chronic kidney disease and other forms of renal insufficiency that might require careful risk/benefit analysis before undergoing a GBCA-enhanced MRI, but we can also envision giving Mn-PyC3A to any patient requiring a contrast-enhanced MRI,” Eric M. Gale, PhD, assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, which co-created Mn-PyC3A, said in a statement on Tuesday.
To read more, got to Health Imaging.
American Board of Radiology Releases New Guide Detailing Ins and Outs of Remote Exams
By Mary Stempniak | December 11, 2020
The American Board of Radiology just released new details on its remote examination process as the doc-certification group shifts to a virtual test-taking environment amid the pandemic.
ABR said it has received several questions about the transition recently and in response, the Tucson, Arizona-based nonprofit published guidelines on Thursday. The document includes crucial info including where exams may be taken, and what’s allowed in the room on the day of a test.
“You assume full responsibility for ensuring your computer setup meets the requirements for remote exams,” the board emphasized in its Remote Exam Basics guide. “ABR staff are not able to provide technical support regarding individual setup for remote exams,” it added later.
Along with basic computer requirements, the guide also addresses performing a monitor self-check, along with where radiologists may take the exam. The space should be away from other people, free of background noise or interruptions, and offer a clear workspace. ABR noted that books or notes, other individuals, cellphones, headsets, cameras, watches and calculators are not permitted in the room.
“If location interruptions are anticipated to be frequent or prolonged, arrangements should be made to use a different location to take the exam,” the board of radiology advised. “Brief/sporadic interruptions could occur unexpectedly. In those cases, ABR senior staff will do a post-exam review to determine if the interruptions had potentially significant impact on the exam.”
ABR first announced plans to transition to virtual exams back in June, following intense pressure from the field. The diagnostic radiology and interventional core exams are slated to run remotely in February.
To read more, go to Radiology Business.