Bill Seeks Moratorium on Pap Test Proficiency Exams for Providers
The College of American Pathologists is calling on Congress to stop the requirement that doctors and laboratory technicians who read Pap tests take annual proficiency exams, even though a high percentage of some health care workers failed the competency test, the Los Angeles Times reports. The current law -- which was passed 17 years ago but was just implemented this year because of difficulties agreeing on the testing regulations as well as a long search for an organization to oversee the testing -- bars anyone who fails the annual competency test three times from reading Pap tests until he or she takes a 35-hour course and scores at least 90 on a retest.
The Proficiency Testing Improvement Act of 2005 (HR 4568) -- which the House on Saturday passed by voice vote and is now before the Senate -- would halt the competency exams for one year, prohibit the federal government from requiring the tests be given more frequently than every two years and mandate modifications in the test "to reflect changes in laboratory operations and practices." The measure says the amended exam also should "reflect the collaborative clinical decision-making" process that CAP says most laboratories use.
According to CMS, which regulates laboratory testing, competency exams given this year showed failure rates of 9% to 41% among several categories of medical personnel. Cytotechnologists, or medical technicians with specialized training in identifying cellular abnormalities, had a 9% failure rate; physicians whose Pap tests were screened by cytotechnologists had a 13% failure rate; and physicians whose Pap tests were not screened by another had a 41% failure rate.
CAP -- which says that pathologists are singled out by the law for competency testing and has taken credit for leading a "grass-roots effort" to change the current testing program -- recently approved its own version of Pap competency testing, which is expected to be available in 2006, according to the Times (Roche, Los Angeles Times, 12/21).