A new article in JACR highlights the economic barriers that are limiting wider adoption of AI in healthcare in the US. The study paints a picture of how the complex nature of Medicare reimbursement puts the country at risk of falling behind other nations in the quest to implement healthcare AI on a national scale.
The success of any new medical technology in the US has always been linked to whether physicians can get reimbursed for using it. But there are a variety of paths to reimbursement in the Medicare system, each one with its own rules and idiosyncrasies.
The establishment of the NTAP program was thought to be a milestone in paying for AI for inpatients, for example, but the JACR authors note that NTAP payments are time-limited for no more than three years. A variety of other factors are limiting AI reimbursement, including …
- All of the AI payments approved under the NTAP program have expired, and as such no AI algorithm is being reimbursed under NTAP
- Budget-neutral requirements in the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule mean that AI reimbursement is often a zero-sum game. Payments made for one service (such as AI) must be offset by reductions for something else
- Only one imaging AI algorithm has successfully navigated CMS to achieve Category I reimbursement in the Physician Fee Schedule, starting in 2024 for fractional flow reserve (FFR) analysis
Standing in stark contrast to the Medicare system is the NHS in the UK, where regulators see AI as an invaluable tool to address chronic workforce shortages in radiology and are taking aggressive action to promote its adoption. Not only has NHS announced a £21M fund to fuel AI adoption, but it is mulling the implementation of a national platform to enable AI algorithms to be accessed within standard radiology workflow.
The JACR article illustrates how Medicare’s Byzantine reimbursement structure puts barriers in the path of wider AI adoption. Although there have been some reimbursement victories such as NTAP, these have been temporary, and the fact that only one radiology AI algorithm has achieved a Category I CPT code must be a sobering thought to AI proponents.