The suspected duplicative use of newer imaging and older radiological equipment, as well as increased usage and consumer demand for diagnostic imaging, have become key drivers of rising healthcare costs, according to a study by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
The Chicago-based association of 42 BC/BS health plans says diagnostic-imaging costs will soar to $100 billion a year by 2005, up from $75 billion in 2000. In addition, the supply of magnetic resonance imaging machines installed in the United States is growing at three times the rate of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, wide regional variances in the availability and usage of advanced imaging equipment indicates a need to promote more effective use of the technology, the report concluded
The report was based on data from the American College of Radiology and from claims data from a national group health plan.
Allan Korn, M.D., chief medical officer of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, was careful not to point fingers at radiologists for the increased costs.
"It's not the radiologists that are at issue as a group," Korn says. "They've got very good guidelines and most of them follow them.
"Diagnostic imaging technology is one of the most important advancements to healthcare in the past quarter century," says Korn. "But it is also the most expensive technology. One of the critical questions before all of us in healthcare is how do we ensure access to medical technology and keep it affordable?"
According to the study, costs are growing faster for newer imaging equipment, but spending on older technologies such as X-ray and ultrasound still contributes a signification portion of overall imaging expenses.
Growth in outpatient diagnostic imaging costs (on a per-member, per-month basis) was up 18% for X-rays and 23% for ultrasounds between 1999 and 2001, while spending on computed tomography scans jumped 45% and for MRIs increased 47% for the same period.
The rise in spending for both the older and newer technologies suggests duplicative procedures, according to BCBSA.
Korn said he plans to meet with top ACR leaders in November and again in February in a larger meeting that will include individual BC/BC plan CMOs and ACR board members to find common ground in addressing the cost issue.
"It's just a challenge out there -- to use this technology more effectively," Korn says.