The inclusion of audiologists in Medicare’s definition of “physician” will create confusion.
In May, legislation (H.R. 2276) was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would inappropriately provide audiologists with unlimited direct access to Medicare patients without a physician referral and amend Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to include audiologists in the definition of “physician.” More than 132 medical groups and organizations, including the Medical Association and the Alabama Society of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgeons, strongly urge the U.S. House to oppose H.S. 2276.
While audiologists are valued health professionals who work for and with physicians, they do not possess the medical training necessary to perform the same duties as physicians, nor are they able to provide patients with the medical diagnosis and treatment options they require. And, most audiologists practice in the same areas as M.D./D.O. physicians. So, claims that expanding the services provided by audiologists will somehow mitigate projected M.D./D.O. physician shortages are often unsubstantiated.
Bypassing a physician evaluation and referral can lead to missed diagnoses and inappropriate treatment that could cause lasting, and expensive, harm to patients. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has maintained a position that physician referral is a “key means by which the Medicare program assures that beneficiaries are receiving medically necessary services, and avoids potential payment for asymptomatic screening tests that are not covered by Medicare ….”
Notwithstanding the patient safety concerns associated with direct access, the inclusion of audiologists in Medicare’s definition of “physician” will create confusion regarding the qualifications and training of various health care providers. And, broadening the term “physician” to include non-physician healthcare providers encroaches on the expert status achieved by M.D./D.O. physicians. Audiologists are not physicians and should not be considered as such under the Medicare program.