Thursday, September 24, 2009

Patients and Officials Rally for Federal Medical Imaging Funding

Hundreds of cancer patients and doctors joined the Emergency Coalition to Save Cancer Imaging and several council members last week on the steps of City Hall to demand that the federal government does not cut funds for medical imaging.

Since 1999, the city has experienced a 171% increase in wait time for mammography screenings, according to a recent Congressional study. The currently proposed federal cuts would result in a further 40% percent reimbursement reduction for some imaging services, putting more providers and patients at risk, argued Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who is seeking to preserve funding for procedures such as PET and CT Scans and MRIs.

“We need to be expanding access to healthcare, not reducing it,” said Crowley. “Medical imaging is at the forefront for early cancer diagnosis and treatment, and every day a patient has to wait for a screening the more at risk they are. We should be focused on extending access to these services not undercutting these vital programs.”

According to a 2007 Congressional study, New York City has lost 67 imaging clinics, or 26% of the facilities offering mammography screenings, since 1999. As a result, women must now wait on average more than five weeks for an appointment and in some cases must wait as long as six months. Brooklyn and the Bronx have an average wait time of 8 weeks, the longest of the five boroughs, and Queens has an average wait time of 4 to 6 weeks.

“Medical professionals clearly advise that early detection is crucial in the fight against breast cancer and other deadly diseases,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “It’s incredible to think that the federal government is considering cutting life saving technologies which have helped so many women and patients across New York City. Preventative health care should be a top priority, not cutting vital services.”

The proposed cuts, in addition to existing major cuts for imaging providers from the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, could threaten access to important radiology services—especially for women and the elderly—and exacerbate the already extremely long wait times for critical services, such as mammography.

“These cuts would have devastating impacts to local New York services including forcing the closing of local providers and dramatically increasing wait times for doctor visits and diagnoses,” said Dr. Eric Schnipper, cofounder and spokesman of the Coalition. “The proposed cuts will only worsen what is already an extremely unhealthy situation. These rate changes could not only cost the government and patients more money, it could cost lives.”

As detailed in multiple recent Congressional reports, many of New York’s medical imaging providers, in particular mammography, have had to close their services due to previous federal cuts and high costs. The proposed cuts are expected to force the closure of many additional providers throughout New York and the country and further limit access to these essential cancer detection services.

Since July 2009, Council Member Crowley and the Emergency Coalition to Save Cancer Imaging have gathered over 25,000 petition signatures from downstate New Yorkers in support of protecting these vital cancer screening services.

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