NEW MARKET (WATE) - Legislation at the federal level is in the works that some doctors say would threaten the quality of health care for their most vulnerable patients.
The Stark Law, which has been in place since 1989, oversees doctors who refer a patient to a medical facility in which they have a financial interest.
Right now it allows physician-owned practices to own, operate and get compensation for imaging services and other diagnostics within their group practice.
If new legislation passes, those medical tests would be banned for certain patients.
Bud Mullins, 75, of New Market, works hard in physical therapy to regain his strength and flexibility after surgery on his spine.
"Came in in a wheelchair and left on a walker, so pretty good progress," Mullins said.
Mullins enjoys the convenience of having every test and treatment he needs for his condition under one roof at Tennessee Orthopedic Clinics (TOC).
"Well, if it's all in-house, it just makes it so much more convenient, plus they know your history, and they know what you've been through and what you're going through," he said.
But that could change if legislation is passed that would ban advanced diagnostic tests like MRIs and physical therapy services for all Medicare and Medicaid patients as well as military personnel who seek treatment at physician-owned medical practices like TOC.
Dr. Merrill White, Mullins' surgeon, says the plan would limit TOC's ability to refer patients to its own facilities.
Patients like Mullins would have to go somewhere else, for example, a hospital to get MRIs and other so-called ancillary services.
It would affect TOC's bottom line, and Dr. White says, his patient's medical expenses.
"One of the issues with imaging at the hospital is it costs about 40 percent more as compared to an imaging center or physician-owned imaging center," Dr. White said.
Supporters say doctors who invest in imaging and advanced physical therapy provide a valuable one-stop shopping service to those like Bud Mullins who have a tough time getting around in the first place.