CMS May Drop Medicare Lab Paperwork Rule

March 1, 2011

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is considering rescinding a new Medicare rule requiring physicians to sign-off on laboratory test requests, after the agency came under pressure from physicians groups and lawmakers.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is considering rescinding a new Medicare rule requiring physicians to sign-off on laboratory test requests, after the agency came under pressure from physicians groups and lawmakers, according to a report in American Medical News.

The rule would create yet another paperwork backlog for clinicians who need to order and fill lab test requests, groups such as the American Medical Association and others have charged.

The signature policy has been in effect since Jan. 1, but not enforced by CMS, according to American Medical News. The agency had cited concerns about lack of awareness of the new rule, after delaying enforcement of the policy until April 1.

Lawmakers had also requested a delay in enforcement, citing concerns about patient care. In a letter to the CMS signed by 87 lawmakers, Texas Reps. Michael Burgess, MD (R., Texas) and Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D., N.J.) said, "We worry about how the rule could affect Medicare beneficiaries where such lab services are necessary for a physician to make critical decisions that affect patients' health and well-being, often under significant time constraints, and urge CMS to consider these situations as they examine this policy." A similar letter was sent by a group of 34 senators a day later.

Physicians groups, including the AMA, had called for the agency to eliminate the requirement permanently. "We clearly communicated to CMS that the added administrative hassles this rule would impose on physicians were burdensome and unnecessary," AMA President Cecil B. Wilson, MD, told American Medical News. "CMS' decision to reverse this policy will allow physicians to spend less time on paperwork and more time on patient care. This decision is an important step as the administration works to ease regulatory burdens for businesses, including physician practices."

Responding to the publiction about the policy change, CMS spokeswoman Ellen Griffith said, "All I can confirm is that the agency is taking another look at the policy and considering next steps."

Read more about the lab test paperwork rule change at American Medical News.