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Medicare Cutbacks Threaten to Put Cardiac Care Out of Reach for Millions of Rural Americans

Saturday, October 10, 2009 General News J E 4
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ANN ARBOR, Mich., Oct. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- Medicare regulatory changes expected to be finalized in November - but overshadowed by the partisan bluster of the ongoing health care debate - pose an imminent threat to 80 million patients in America suffering from heart disease, especially for the nearly one in four Americans over the age of 65 living in rural areas.



Many cardiologists who operate in rural areas believe the proposal will force them to close their outreach offices completely since many of these operations run at a fiscal loss but offer an important service to remote communities.



"We currently provide cardiac services to nine remote clinics two to four times each month," said Dr. Joe Stevenson, president of Sierra Nevada Cardiology Associates in Reno, Nev. "If these Medicare cuts go through, we will not be able to provide diagnostic echocardiography services on-site at those locations. That will mean our rural patients will have to drive up to 400 miles round trip to obtain these critical imaging tests. Some of them just won't be able or willing to do that. And since 50 percent of patients experience their first cardiac disease symptoms as a heart attack, the lack of access to diagnostic tests will put their lives at tremendous risk."



At issue is the amount Medicare, a federal program that helps people 65 or older pay health care costs, reimburses cardiologists for lifesaving diagnostic testing. Beginning in January 2010, reimbursement rates could be slashed in some cases by an additional 40 percent for imaging and other vital diagnostic tools cardiologists use daily to save lives.



This means many cardiologists, especially those in rural areas, will have to stop using these tools and instead send their patients to get these tests at hospitals. Many rural patients will face long distance travel to hospitals, out-of-pocket costs that are as much as five times higher than in-office co-pays and wait times for tests and test results that will take days, not hours as currently is the case when obtained in the cardiologist's office.



Guarding Hearts Alliance is fighting Washington over the proposal, which is based on questionable data gathered in 2006 via a statistically invalid survey that used data from only 55 cardiologists--the equivalent of only one quarter of 1 percent of the nation's cardiologists.



Member cardiologists of Guarding Hearts Alliance will converge in Washington, D.C., October 13-14 to plead with Congress to do the right thing for patients and not restrict access to cardiac care by interceding on implementing the Medicare regulations.



Patients concerned about being lost in this debate should sign up to join the cause at www.GuardingHeartsAlliance.org. Their voices will be heard clearly in October, when the alliance travels to Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers about issues that could have significantly adverse effects on the nation's 80 million patients who suffer from heart disease.



About the Guarding Hearts Alliance

The Guarding Hearts Alliance is a partnership representing more than 23,000 cardiologists across the country, all of whom are strongly in favor of Medicare regulations and health care reform initiatives that put patients first in preserving access to quality cardiac care. Administered through the Cardiology Advocacy Alliance, this group is vitally concerned about potential changes that could inadvertently endanger patient lives. Such issues as imaging equipment utilization and reimbursement fee schedules might sound like they would generate simple shifts in business practices, but they represent a potential threat - access to lifesaving technology that serves the range of rural Medicare recipients to privately insured urban residences alike.



For more information, visit www.GuardingHeartsAlliance.org.







SOURCE Guarding Hearts Alliance
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