Northern California Breast Cancer Screening Centers Struggle with Low Reimbursement, Labor Shortage
Low Medicare reimbursement, increasing demand and a "crippling labor shortage" have forced several Northern California breast cancer screening centers either to close or consolidate, leading to waiting periods for mammograms of up to four months, the East Bay Business Times reports. FDA figures show that 90 of California's roughly 800 certified centers closed between 1999 and October of this year, with the main culprit being low reimbursements. According to Tricia Baker, manager of the San Jose-based Good Samaritan Breast Care Center, the average reimbursement for a mammogram is $45 to $55 -- "basically the cost of providing the service." Breast centers had expected reimbursements to increase next year, but CMS will reduce the rate for clinics from $47.08 per mammogram to $45.25, although radiologists who read the X-rays will see their rate increase from $22 to $35.47. A bill (HR 1328) introduced in the House would increase the reimbursement rate to a combined $90 for the physician and clinic, but so far the measure has not moved out of committee. With more women seeking exams and a shortage of certified mammography technologists -- as well a growing number of physicians unwilling to read mammograms for fear of malpractice suits -- the low rates are hurting clinics and patients alike. In the San Jose area, the wait for an exam ranges from six weeks to four months, while women seeking mammograms in the East Bay, San Francisco and Sacramento wait an average of two months. "The pool of patients is getting bigger, while the pool of centers is getting smaller," Roger Jackman, chief of mammography at the Palo Alto Clinic, said (May et al., East Bay Business Times, 11/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.