Medicare Payment Cuts For Osteoporosis Testing Reduced Use Despite Tests' Benefit In Reducing Fractures

King, Alison B.; Fiorentino, Donna M.
December 2011
Health Affairs;Dec2011, Vol. 30 Issue 12, p2362
Academic Journal
Bone imaging known as DXA ("dexa")-dual energy x-ray absorptiometry of the central skeleton--is considered the "gold standard" test for osteoporosis, which affects more than fifty million Americans. The tests are associated with improved clinical outcomes through preventing bone fractures. Cuts in Medicare Part B reimbursement for the provision of this preventive imaging in a physician's office began in 2007 and reached 56 percent below the 2006 level in January 2010. To encourage the use of DXA testing, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 provided partial relief from the cuts for two years (2010-11). Our study found that after a decade of growth, DXA testing in all Part B settings plateaued in 2007-09, resulting in 800,000 fewer tests than expected for Medicare beneficiaries-tests that might have prevented approximately 12,000 fractures. Testing declined in 2010, when the start of reimbursement relief under the Affordable Care Act was delayed, and increased outpatient testing failed to offset reduced use in physician offices. Our findings strongly suggest that the payment cuts reduced beneficiary access and that the tests were underused by elderly female Medicare beneficiaries despite strong association with fracture prevention. We recommend that Congress extend the payment relief granted under the Affordable Care Act for at least another two years.


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