For 56 Million Seniors, New Cuts to Lab Tests Makes the Road to Better Health Much Harder
Millions of seniors weathered the worst of the pandemic – the uncertainty of COVID-19, the disruptions to family life and the ongoing risks to their health. As a result of many factors throughout the pandemic, seniors have faced a drastic, and concerning, drop in routine testing and diagnostic screenings for cancer and other chronic conditions. Now seniors across the country could face a new risk: losing access to the critical lab services that are essential for diagnosing and treating chronic and severe conditions at their earliest stages.
In 2014, Congress passed the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA) to establish a uniform reimbursement system for labs across the country. However, as a result of flawed implementation, laboratories have faced three years of 10 percent cuts to the most common laboratory tests, including the top 25 tests most used by seniors. Fast forward to January 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is set to further cut Medicare reimbursement for nearly 600 clinical laboratory tests.
Previous Medicare cuts to lab tests have already forced specialized labs serving nursing homes, skilled nursing and long-term care facilities to significantly reduce services, and in some cases, stop operations or lay off staff. These cuts have a disproportionate impact on seniors in rural communities who already face shortages of medical care and staffing within their communities.
Congress has recognized the direct harm to patients as a result of these cuts. Over the last two years, policymakers have passed bipartisan legislation, including the 2019 Laboratory Access for Beneficiaries (LAB) Act and the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, to make sure seniors’ access to lab testing was maintained.
However, without Congress taking immediate steps to delay the upcoming cuts and flawed reporting requirements, seniors could face new challenges in accessing the testing they need.
Congress acted in the darkest days of the pandemic to make sure America’s seniors wouldn’t lose access to vital lab services. As we approach the 11th hour, policymakers must do everything possible to ensure Medicare beneficiaries get the care they need.