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Monday, April 28, 2008

SEE YOU AT TEXMED 2008

TMA’s annual meeting starts Thursday in San Antonio and runs through Saturday. TexMed 2008 has much to offer: a Pulitzer-Prize-winning general session speaker; a record number of action items on the House of Delegates’ agenda; the TMA Foundation’s Gala: Night on the Mexican Riviera; more than 100 hours of free continuing medical education; a packed Expo Hall; the installation of new TMA President Josie Williams, MD, and TMA Alliance President Patrick Hearn; the unveiling of MedLink TV, the new, free, 40-inch, flat-screen member benefit from TMA; and much more. I hope to see you there. If you can’t make it, next week’s EVPGram will have all the highlights.

THE DISTINGUISHED DR. BUTLER

Congratulations to Max C. Butler, MD, who will receive the TMA Distinguished Service Award at TexMed 2008. A Houston family physician for almost 50 years, Dr. Butler has dedicated his career to serving his patients and furthering the work of organized medicine. His service to medicine has included the TMA presidency in 1989-90 and helping to establish the TMA Foundation, as chair of the state steering committee for the Legacy of Caring Campaign.

STATE OFFERS BUSINESS TAX EXTENSION

Comptroller Susan Combs announced that Texas businesses, including many physician practices, have an additional 30 days to pay the new state business tax. The deadline is now June 15. TMA fought hard to make sure that the new tax excludes payments from government health plans and allows physicians to take allowances for the cost of charity care. We also worked with Comptroller Combs’ office to make the tax as fair as possible to physicians.

SANCHEZ NEW BLUE CROSS MEDICAL DIRECTOR

Former Texas Commissioner of Health Eduardo Sanchez, MD, will be vice president and chief medical officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, effective May 30. TMA enjoyed an excellent working relationship with Dr. Sanchez when he led the Department of State Health Services, and we hope to continue that in his new position.

Monday, April 21, 2008

CORRECTION REGARDING TMB AND FINGERPRINTS

Today's EVPGram contained some misleading information regarding the Texas Medical Board (TMB) requirement for physician fingerprints as part of the licensing process. The TMB started taking fingerprints from applicants on Oct. 1, 2007. The board continues to require fingerprints of all physicians who had a new application pending on Oct. 1 or who have submitted a new application since that date. The TMB is not yet requiring fingerprints of current licensees. The board plans to start capturing that information in the not-too-distant future, but that requirement is estimated to be at least two months away.

MEDICINE BESTS HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION IN LATEST DC SHOWDOWN

One of the (many) reasons Austin is better than Washington, D.C., is a little rule in the Texas Legislature that requires amendments to bills to have at least something in common with the bill itself. Congress has no such requirement. That explains why the American Hospital Association (AHA) keeps trying to slap restrictions on physician ownership willy-nilly on every piece of legislation that looks like it actually might pass. The 2008 Farm Bill was the
latest vehicle for such chicanery, but TMA, the American Medical Association, and others mounted the political muscle to remove the amendment. We really appreciate the calls you made to Congress to turn that around.

Speaking of appreciation, TMA congratulates U.S. Reps. Sam Johnson (R-Plano) and Rubén
Hinojosa (D-Edinburg) for alerting their congressional colleagues to some AHA propaganda that misrepresents the quality of care provided by physician-owned hospitals. "Your joint letter to your colleagues proves that this is neither a Republican nor Democratic issue; rather it is an issue of immense importance to Texas physicians and our patients," TMA President Bill Hinchey, MD, wrote in a letter to the two congressmen.

TEXMED 2008 JUST AROUND THE CORNER

Today is the last day to register online for TMA's annual meeting, May 2-3 in San Antonio. Along with the House of Delegates meeting, more than 100 hours of free continuing medical education, and the chance to catch up with old friends, don't miss:
  • The special session to help you understand how health plans rate physicians, how to dispute a faulty rating, and how to adopt evidence-based tools that measure real quality and efficiency of care.
  • Reserving a spot to be fingerprinted to renew your medical license.
  • Previewing MedLink TV, the new, free, 40-inch, flat-screen member benefit from TMA.

PHYSICIANS ANSWER CALL FOR HELP

I want to express my personal appreciation to those San Angelo-area physicians who responded to TMA's request for doctors to screen the women and children taken from the religious compound in Eldorado. The Department of State Health Services turned to TMA for help in this different kind of disaster, and you delivered medical care where it was needed.

TMB HASTENING LICENSES

The flood of Texas-bound physicians continues, and the Texas Medical Board (TMB) issued 688 physician licenses at its latest meeting. TMB reports the average time to process a license is down to 55.5 days. That figure hit a high of more than 90 days before TMA helped the board win additional staff and funds from the 2007 Texas Legislature.

UT-HOUSTON LEADER PICKED

The new president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston will be Larry Kaiser, MD, chair of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He succeeds James Willerson, MD, who will be president of the Texas Heart Institute.

Monday, April 14, 2008

EL PASO GIANT FALLS

We mourn the passing of William Gordon McGee, MD, the outspoken advocate for border health in his beloved, adopted hometown of El Paso. Dr. McGee, 74, was a past president of TMA, the El Paso County Medical Society, and the Texas Society of Pathologists. His death comes just weeks after the culmination of a dream when the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso won accreditation. We will miss his passion, compassion, and caring.

TMA TO CONGRESS: NO INCREASE FOR PLANS

As the federal government is starving physicians out of Medicare, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced another 3.6-percent payment increase for Medicare Advantage plans. TMA cried foul in a letter to Texans in Congress. “It is blatantly unfair for the federal government to unduly enrich the health plans simply for brokering or repackaging existing medical services,” wrote TMA President Bill Hinchey, MD. “Congress should not allow CMS to authorize any payment updates until a rational physician payment system is designed that reflects the actual costs for physicians of providing medically necessary health services to our patients.” Without congressional action, physicians’ Medicare payments will be cut 10.6 percent on July 1.

GOOD AND GETTING BETTER

For three days, examiners from Quality Texas roamed the halls of TMA, interviewing management and staff, seeing our best practices, and probing our strategic planning processes. The visit was part of our application for the Texas Award for Performance Excellence. Win or lose, we will receive back a comprehensive report on what we do well and where we can improve. The program is part of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

PATRICK TO STEP DOWN

Donald Patrick, MD, JD, who has led the Texas Medical Board (TMB) through stormy waters, announced he will retire Aug. 28. Dr. Patrick is a highly principled man who faced the board’s challenges head-on. He revamped the TMB disciplinary process after the news media revealed lax treatment of physicians who sullied the profession. He won additional appropriations for the agency, and his final goal is whittling away at the huge backlog of license applications that have flooded TMB since our 2003 liability reforms made Texas such a great place to practice medicine.

PHYSICIANS, DEWHURST PREP FOR 2009

Medical school loan repayments, health plan accountability, funding for cancer treatment, and coverage for the uninsured topped the agenda when TMA leaders and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst met to review hot issues for the 2009 Texas Legislature. TMA Council on Legislation Chair Albert Gros, MD; Advocacy Vice President Darren Whitehurst; and I met with Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst and his top aides at the Capitol.

TMA HOUSE FACES HUGE AGENDA

More than 75 action items await the TMA House of Delegates at TexMed 2008 in San Antonio, May 2-3. Get ready for the serious debate with a little word puzzle.

Monday, April 7, 2008

TMA’S WASHINGTON TRIP A HIT

Texas physicians swarmed Capitol Hill last week, personally delivering the Texas Medicare Manifesto to every member of the Texas delegation in Congress. Our 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 were well received. We also discussed problems with health insurance companies’ inadequate payments for vaccines and the need to preserve physicians’ rights to own hospitals and other health care facilities. TMA President Bill Hinchey, MD, led the group, which included 12 physicians, 10 TMA Alliance members, five medical students, and six TMA staff members, all participating in the American Medical Association’s National Advocacy Conference. A highlight of the event was our joint meeting with two AMA members in Congress: Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Lewisville), and Rep. Tom Price, MD (R-Georgia).

IT’S NOT JUST A TV FOR YOUR WAITING ROOM, IT’S TMA TV FROM MEDLINK

Are you ready for a free, 36-inch, flat-screen member benefit from TMA? We’re very excited about the agreement we reached with MedLink International to provide the televisions, with excellent content for your patients, to all TMA members who want one. The programming will include health information from TMA and from leading Texas physicians. Back-office screens, with CME and valuable information for you and your staff, will come in phase two of this project. Visit the MedLink booth at TexMed 2008 in San Antonio and watch for announcements that the MedLink installers are coming to your county.

UT TAKES A SHINE TO KEN

With The University of Texas (UT) System’s leader off to a new job in California, the man in charge of UT’s medical schools will become the system’s interim chancellor. UT regents picked cardiologist Kenneth Shine, MD, executive vice chancellor for health affairs, to hold down the helm starting May 1 as they search for a permanent chancellor.

TMA WEB SITE HONORED

www.texmed.org was the only professional society Web site to take home a medal in the latest national Internet competition. We won a bronze award in the World Wide Web Health Awards, which recognizes the best Web-based health-related content for consumers and professionals. Hundreds of organizations submitted nearly 1,000 entries in this year's National Health Information Awards competition.