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Cardiac Patients Across Rural America Risk Losing Access to Nearby Care as Federal Agency Considers Cuts this Week

Disproportionate impact to rural areas if Medicare rule includes proposed cuts to cardiac tests -- The clock is ticking for tens of thousands of heart patients in rural America as a looming federal government decision that is only days away could take away their access to quality cardiac care.

Ann Arbor, MI (PRWEB) October 26, 2009 -- The clock is ticking for tens of thousands of heart patients in rural America as a looming federal government decision that is only days away could take away their access to quality cardiac care.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is expected to finalize regulations as early as Friday, Oct. 30, 2009, that could cause the outright closure of many rural cardiac clinics, forcing many Americans living outside city centers to travel great distances to get the care they need and deserve.

"We're down to the wire here and hope that our collective voice is being heard as we urge Washington to protect our patients," said Matthew Phillips, a cardiologist in Austin, Texas. Phillips operates rural clinics in Central Texas where he would need to significantly reduce services and the availability of cardiologists if Medicare's final rule that goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2010, which includes proposed cuts to imaging tests needed to diagnose and treat heart disease.

Phillips, a founding member of the Guarding Hearts Alliance, a group of 23,000 cardiologists fighting Washington over proposed Medicare cutbacks that ultimately would restrict access to cardiac care, is not alone. Hundreds of practices could be affected.

The cardiac care cutbacks are based on highly questionable data gathered in 2006 via a statistically invalid survey that used data from only 55 cardiologists--the equivalent of only one quarter of 1 percent of the nation's cardiologists. The proposed Medicare rule was released in July, and if finalized in its current form by the Nov. 1 deadline it would take an act of Congress to overturn the regulations.

This means many cardiologists, especially those who already run rural outreach clinics at a fiscal loss, may have to stop providing diagnostic testing in outlying areas; and in some cases may be forced to close rural offices completely. Patients then may need to obtain diagnostic tests at hospitals, resulting in many rural patients facing long-distance travel, out-of-pocket costs that are as much as five times higher than in-office co-pays and wait times for tests and test results that will take days, not hours as currently is the case when obtained in the cardiologist's office.

"These draconian Medicare cuts will have a real impact on the rural population's access to health care," said Dr. Bruce Murphy, a cardiologist with Little Rock Cardiology Clinic, which has 33 satellite offices serving rural communities. "If the cutbacks are passed, we may not be able to continue to provide diagnostic echocardiography services on-site at those locations. This means that, for example, our patients in Camden, Ark., will have to drive four hours round-trip to Little Rock to obtain these critical imaging tests. Some patients won't be able or willing to do that, which puts their heart health at serious risk."
Patients concerned about being lost in this debate should sign up to join the fight at to let lawmakers know that severe cuts to Medicare reimbursement could have significantly adverse effects on the nation's 80 million patients who suffer from heart disease.

Media interested in speaking to a cardiologist and patients about the measure should contact Margo Burrage at 734.878.2108.

About the Guarding Hearts Alliance
The Guarding Hearts Alliance is a partnership representing more than 23,000 cardiologists across the country, all of whom are strongly in favor of Medicare regulations and health care reform initiatives that put patients first in preserving access to quality cardiac care. Administered through the Cardiology Advocacy Alliance, this group is vitally concerned about potential changes that could inadvertently endanger patient lives. Such issues as imaging equipment utilization and reimbursement fee schedules might sound like they would generate simple shifts in business practices, but they represent a potential threat - access to lifesaving technology that serves the range of rural Medicare recipients to privately insured urban residences alike.

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