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Monday, March 31, 2008

TMA DELIVERING MEDICARE MANIFESTO TO WASHINGTON

TMA President Bill Hinchey, MD, is leading a delegation to Capitol Hill that includes 12 physicians, 10 TMA Alliance members, five medical students, and six TMA staff members. As part of the American Medical Association’s National Advocacy Conference, the TMA contingent will take part in a march to the Capitol with hundreds of physicians from around the country. We will be meeting with every member of the Texas delegation in Congress, imploring them to adopt the Texas Medicare Manifesto, which calls for a rational Medicare physician payment system that automatically keeps up with the cost of running a practice and is backed by a stable funding source. Look for coverage in next week’s EVPGram and an upcoming Texas Medicine.

TMA SURVEY SHOWS MEDICARE FORCING PHYSICIANS OUT

One member of Congress who definitely understands what the Medicare payment fiasco is doing to physicians is U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. His Ensuring the Future Workforce of Physicians Act of 2008 (S 2729) would stop the 10.6-percent cut scheduled for July 1 and put in place a rational payment system. To support that bill, TMA conducted a survey of Texas physicians, whose results we unveiled at a joint news conference with Senator Cornyn in Houston. Harris County Medical Society President Tom Garcia, MD, a member of the TMA Board of Trustees, delivered the sobering news:

  • The percentage of physicians who accept all new Medicare patients has declined to an all-time low of 58.1 percent.
  • Nearly one-third of physicians have decided to accept fewer new Medicare patients in the past three years. Only 4 percent are accepting more.
  • Texas physicians will not refuse their current Medicare patients. Nearly 70 percent say that is something they will not do.

MEDEM OFFERS FREE DRUG ALERTS TO PHYSICIANS

The new Health Care Notification Network delivers online, specialty-specific medication safety alerts to physicians. Medem, the medical-society- run organization, operates the network with the iHealth Alliance, a nonprofit group chaired by Nancy Dickey, MD, president of the Texas A&M University System Health Science Center. “We are finally moving from the paper age into the Internet age in terms of patient safety alerts,” Dr. Dickey said.

TEXMED ’08 HOTEL DEADLINE TOMORROW

April 1 is the last day to make your room reservations for TexMed 2008 in San Antonio. This year’s annual meeting runs May 2-3 at the convention center.

EVPGRAM HAS ITS OWN BLOG

Read EVPGram articles anytime on our blog. It’s one of many TMA ventures into new communications media, including: Blogged Arteries; RSS feeds; Facebook pages for medical students, residents, and young physicians; even Twitter. Check ’em out.

Monday, March 24, 2008

AG WARNS OF WEB HEALTH FRAUD

"What appears to be a medically oriented Web site may actually be an advertising tool for a third party with a financial incentive to exaggerate or downplay a product’s benefits or dangers,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott cautions in a new consumer alert. Those with “financial incentives” include plaintiffs’ attorneys and class-action law firms. TMA developed a checklist you can share with your patients (PDF) to help them evaluate the validity of health care Web sites.

TWO TMA MEMBERS NAMED TO CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES PANEL

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Austin anesthesiologist Catherine Scholl, MD – a member of the TMA Council on Legislation – and Aaron Calodney, MD, of Tyler, an interventional pain physician, to the newly created Advisory Committee on the Regulation of Controlled Substances Act. That law, passed last year, regulates and provides penalties for the abuse of controlled substances.

Monday, March 17, 2008

COURT RULES FOR TMA IN PODIATRY SUIT

The Texas State Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners walked where only the Texas Legislature can step when it tried to expand the definition of the foot to include the bones in the ankle, judges on the Texas Court of Appeals, Third District, ruled. The decision came in an appeal TMA and the Texas Orthopaedic Association made of a lower court’s decision in 2005. “I'm glad the appeals court recognizes that the proper medical care of patients is too important to be left to people who are not adequately trained to perform certain procedures,” said TMA President Bill Hinchey, MD. The Court of Appeals ordered the lower court to rehear the case.

SECOND MEDICARE BILL FILED

Legislation that would stop pending cuts in physicians’ Medicare payments won the support of the American Medical Association. The bill by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) would prevent the 10.6-percent cut scheduled for July 1 and another 5-percent reduction on the books for 2009. “We urge Congress to act before the cut begins this July and seniors’ access to care is negatively affected,” said AMA President-Elect Nancy H. Nielsen, MD. TMA lobbyists say the Stabenow bill is a complement to the long-term solution offered by our own Sen. John Cornyn. His bill would base future payment adjustments on physicians’ costs of running a practice. We will urge Senators Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison and Texans in the House to support both measures. You can do that too by joining Dr. Hinchey and other TMA leaders as they personally deliver the message to our congressional delegation at AMA’s National Advocacy Conference, April 1-2, in Washington, D.C.

BLUE CROSS RATINGS COMING, TMA CAN HELP

Physicians across the state this week start receiving new economic and clinical ratings from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. The TMA Web site now has explanations of the rating system, an easy way for physicians to log complaints about BlueCompare and Blue solutions, and information on what you can do if you don't like your rating.

SEEN A CASE OF POLIO LATELY?

Of course not. Thank God, and thank Drs. Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. If you’re too young to remember the discovery of the polio vaccine or just want to relive those heady days of scientific excitement, listen to the latest Podcast TMA. “The Race for the Vaccine” features Pulitzer Prize-winning historian – and TexMed 2008 keynote speaker – David Oshinsky, PhD.

TMA MEMBER ONCOLOGIST TO HELP OVERSEE PROP 15 FUNDS

House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) named former TMA Council on Legislation Chair Joe Bailes, MD, to the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute Oversight Committee. The nine-member panel will manage the operations and staff of the institute, which the legislature created last year. Voters last year approved a constitutional amendment to issue $3 billion in bonds that will finance the institute’s research and prevention activities.

Monday, March 10, 2008

CORNYN FILES MEDICARE FIX BILL

The physicians of Texas don’t just applaud Senator Cornyn … we rise to give him a standing ovation,” TMA President Bill Hinchey, MD, said after U.S. Sen. John Cornyn introduced a bill to rewrite how Medicare pays physicians. “For years, we have been calling on Congress to enact a rational Medicare physician payment system that automatically keeps up with the cost of running a practice and is backed by a stable funding source. Senator Cornyn’s bill will help make sure that America doesn’t break its promise to our Medicare patients.” The bill would stop the 10-percent cut in Medicare payments set for July 1, replace the faulty sustainable growth rate formula, and base future payment adjustments on the Medicare Economic Index. “I will fight to make sure this bill, and this critical issue, receives the attention it deserves in Congress,” Senator Cornyn said.

MEDICINE’S CANDIDATES FARE WELL

I want to send my personal thanks to all of you who voted for TEXPAC-endorsed candidates in the March 4 party primaries. We enjoyed strong victories on both sides of the aisle and have begun immediately to prepare for the general elections in November.

HOUSE PASSES GOOD BILL WITH BAD PART

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a needed bill to ensure parity for mental health coverage in insurance benefits. But it includes stark restrictions on physicians’ rights to own or invest in hospitals and other facilities, based on a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assertion that such restrictions will save money. “We ask CBO to prove up its assumptions and numbers or permanently remove them as a purported budget savings,” Dr. Hinchey said in a letter to the Texas congressional delegation. “As the saying goes in Texas, it is time for the CBO to put up or shut up.” A similar bill passed the Senate without the ownership language. We expect opponents of physician ownership to attach similar provisions to other bills that medicine otherwise supports. We will continue to oppose that kind of legislative blackmail.

HINCHEY, HAWKINS POW-WOW ON STATE UNINSURED PLAN

State Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins invited TMA to his offices to discuss our concerns with the state’s plan to help low-income Texans find affordable insurance. Dr. Hinchey and Lew Foxhall, MD, of Houston, and Commissioner Hawkins discussed reimbursement rates, continuity of care, and catastrophic illness coverage. He was very receptive to our recommendations and directed his senior staff to work with TMA to find ways to improve the “health opportunity pool” (PDF) proposal.

TMA PRESIDENT TALKS IN DENTON

Dr. Hinchey visited the Denton County Medical Society on election night to share his Texas Medicare Manifesto with members. TMA Alliance President Mia Price joined him on the program in her home town.

Monday, March 3, 2008

MEDICINE READY TO FIGHT TO SAVE LIABILITY CAPS

As expected, the personal injury trial lawyers representing former Dallas Cowboy Ron Springs filed a federal class-action lawsuit, challenging the noneconomic damages caps in our 2003 health care liability reforms. TMA is teaming with the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, Texas Medical Liability Trust, and other pro-reform groups to foil the challenge. As 30 years of experience have taught our colleagues in California, we constantly must be vigilant to rebuff judicial and legislative attacks on our tort reforms. TMA General Counsel Rocky Wilcox, JD, was in Hawaii to help physicians there pass liability reforms over the objections of trial lawyers who are pretending that our new laws aren’t working. Rocky helped to set them straight.

MEDPAC JOINS THE TEXAS MEDICARE MANIFESTO

Congress’ own Medicare advisory panel issued a strong recommendation that payments to physicians must track the rising costs of running a practice and caring for patients. Read the MedPAC release (PDF) online. And join TMA President Bill Hinchey, MD, and other TMA leaders as they personally deliver the message to our congressional delegation at the American Medical Association’s National Advocacy Conference, April 1-2, in Washington, D.C.

LET DR. BURGESS EXPLAIN IT TO YOU

Want to know exactly what’s holding up real change in Medicare financing? See how U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Lewisville), enlightened the crowd at the 2008 TEXPAC Grassroots Forum. The video is on the TMA Web site.

PHYSICIANS’ FOUNDATIONS ARE HERE TO HELP

What are the biggest stresses in your practice? The physicians’ foundations created as part of the settlements of our national, class-action antiracketeering lawsuits against the nation’s biggest health plans are embarking on a nationwide poll of physicians to determine how the foundations can help you relieve those stresses.

SIGN UP NOW FOR TEXMED HOTEL ROOM

April 1 is the deadline to reserve your room for TexMed 2008 in San Antonio. But we encourage you to sign up now because several large conventions will hit the Alamo City at the same time as ours. TMA’s 141st annual session, expo, and educational showcase includes more than 100 hours of free CME programming and an expansive exhibit hall featuring 160 exhibits. The schedule of events is a little different this year: The TMA House of Delegates will meet on Friday and Saturday.