Costs Soar as Docs Order and Perform Tests

Fishy practice highlights challenge of medical regulation

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 31, 2009 12:25 PM CDT

(Newser) – As Congress wrestles with health-care reform, studies show it’s tough to regulate the status quo: Doctors’ “self-referrals” for medical imaging have continued despite efforts to legislate against them, the Washington Post reports. Doctors who own the equipment that scans patients stand to make more cash—and tend to order a lot more scans, costing Americans billions in taxes and insurance premiums.

One Midwestern practice ordered 700% more scans in the months after it picked up its own machine. Doctors can’t both prescribe and sell medications, and some lawmakers say a similar standard should apply to imaging. But a 1992 law against self-referral for imaging left a loophole. While some may be abusing the system, “most doctors are dedicated to providing outstanding patient care,” says one doctor. “Is everyone a Bernie Madoff or a crooked politician?”

A nurse and doctor review MRI scans.   (Photo: Business Wire)
This undated MRI scan image released by Imperial College, London, provides a detailed look at where fat is stored internally in the human body.   (AP Photo, Imperial College, London)
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