Heart Test Costs Rise As Cardiologists Flock To Hospitals

Alan Bavley | The Kansas City Star | December 29, 2013

It was late in 2009, and Willie Lawrence and the other heart specialists in his practice faced a dilemma.

Should they renew their expiring office lease and commit themselves to their independent cardiology practice at Research Medical Center or shut down their business and take the jobs that local hospitals were offering?

Medicare helped make the decision for them.

Like many cardiologists in the 2000s, Lawrence and his partners had been making good money by using their own equipment to run sophisticated nuclear stress tests and ultrasound scans. These heart-imaging services were a lucrative and growing part of many cardiology practices.

Then Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly, put on the brakes. In July 2009, it announced new rules that cut payments by as much as 35 percent to 40 percent.