As lawmakers work to advance final legislative proposals, Congress has the chance to take decisive action on one issue that has bipartisan support: protecting seniors’ access to essential, life-saving lab services.
Recognizing the critical role of routine testing for patient health and overall cost savings, more than 30 organizations representing patients, health care professionals, laboratories and diagnostic manufacturers are calling on Congress to take action to address the central issue threatening seniors’ ability to access vital lab services: the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’ flawed implementation of the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA).
The Department’s misguided data collection process undermines the essential clinical laboratory services that 44 million Medicare seniors depend on for their health. As a result, in 2018 alone, Medicare beneficiaries faced more than $670 million in cuts to lab services. These unsustainable cuts increase in 2019 and 2020 – leading to a drastic reduction of $3.6 billion from clinical laboratory services over three years.
These cuts strike at the core of comprehensive disease management and early intervention by reducing access to lab tests for some of the most commonly diagnosed conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and cancer. That’s why these national organizations – all of which represent diverse clinical areas across the health system – acknowledge a fundamental truth that cutting seniors’ Medicare lab benefits will reverse the progress we have made to address and prevent chronic disease.
Today, roughly 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic condition and 77 percent have at least two chronic conditions. The need to effectively manage the range of health conditions facing seniors has never been greater. Just ask any person living with a chronic disease who knows that earlier diagnoses and screening coupled with earlier interventions can have an invaluable impact on improving health outcomes – and creating financial savings. For health care practitioners caring for patients, routine lab testing is a first and essential step towards treatment plans that are tailored to meet the specific health needs of each and every patient and to treat areas of concern, before they get worse.
It’s no surprise that these severe cuts to lab services set off alarm bells across the health system. While the Department has made initial changes to try and mitigate some of the harm facing seniors, more needs to be done to stop at least two more years of cuts facing seniors’ lab services. There are immediate steps that Congress can take now, such as halting the next wave of payment reductions and putting a pause on data and reporting efforts to make sure the Department is collecting the right data moving forward. For the millions of seniors who rely on these tests, it’s up to Congress to act now to protect them before it’s too late.