Physicians at the Yellowstone Pathology Institute called on Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., on Tuesday to help combat proposed cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates. While the freshman congressman said he would like to help, he also pressed them for specific examples.
“It always helps me bring the Montana voice to Washington,” Daines said.
Daines, who spent an hour visiting with physicians and touring the lab in the Billings medical corridor, said he wanted clear examples of how the proposed cuts, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2014, would impact patients, and ultimately the Institute.
A self-described “math guy,” Daines said he wants to understand the rationale behind the proposed cuts.
“I’d like to get my head into this.” Daines said.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Montana Democrats, were also invited to tour the facility and meet with staff pathologists. Tester’s schedule did not allow it but he has a conference call scheduled with the team. Baucus has toured the facility before. Daines, hungry for more details, has also asked for a follow-up conference with the physicians.
The Institute has offices in Montana and Wyoming. It employs five pathologists in Montana and one in Wyoming. One of its biggest contracts is with St. Vincent Healthcare. It also works for independent physicians and hospitals across Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is proposing to cut reimbursement by at least 50 percent for certain types of diagnostic slides. CMS is also proposing to cut the reimbursement rate by more than 70 percent for tests designed to diagnose blood cancers.
The proposed cuts are in addition to cuts that were already implemented this year that cut reimbursement rates by 50 percent on the most common of diagnostic slides.
About 40 to 50 percent of the Institute's patients are on Medicare, according to Dr. Duane Schultz, president of the group.
“It doesn’t make much sense to us,” Schultz said. “It’s a big bite. We’re just trying to educate people about this.”
Compounding the problem is that many insurance companies tend to follow what Medicare does. If that happens, Schultz said the Institute may not be able to provide diagnostic services for certain groups of people, potentially senior citizens.
“I do share their concern,” Daines said. “This is a clinic that provides world-class services to the people of Montana. We’re very fortunate to have these kinds of trained and talented professionals. But, if Medicare reimbursements are not at levels where they continue to provide the services, ultimately the patient is going to suffer.”