Medical scans zapping insurers

By M. William Salganik
Baltimore Sun

Danilo Espinola is a busy doctor who seldom sees a patient. Instead, he spends most of his time in a half-darkened room at Advanced Radiology's imaging center in Pikesville, peering at amazingly detailed scans on a computer screen as he searches for malignancies or other abnormalities.

Less than a decade ago, the technology - positron emission tomography - was primarily a research tool shunned by insurers. But once Medicare and private insurers decided to cover the diagnostic test, usage shot up.

In the past five years, the number of PET scans increased 400 percent, according to consulting firm IMV Limited

Now more than a million PET scans are done a year, at about $2,500 apiece. Espinola reads 20 to 25 scans in a typical day, a rate that would yield more than $1 million a year in billings.

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