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Monday, July 21, 2008

TMA BACK TO THE LONG-TERM MEDICARE GRIND

The drama of the past five weeks is over. Disaster was averted as Congress quickly and decisively overturned President Bush’s veto of the bill reversing the 10.6-percent cut in physicians’ Medicare payments. But all we’ve really done is bought ourselves 18 months to overhaul the Medicare funding formula. And we’re back to the basics of TMA’s Texas Medicare Manifesto, working with Congress to enact a rational physician payment system that automatically keeps up with the cost of running a practice and is backed by a stable funding source.

THANKING OUR FRIENDS

Angry physicians and worried patients made the difference on Capitol Hill. As TMA and the rest of organized medicine rallied physicians to contact senators and representatives against the president’s veto, AARP mobilized senior citizens to do the same. With that one-two punch, the Senate voted 70-26 and the House voted 383-41 to override the veto. Here’s how Texans voted:

  • U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison voted against the bill the first time it died in the Senate. They then voted for the bill, giving it a veto-proof majority, and voted to override the veto.

  • Republican U.S. Reps. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Lewisville), Ralph Hall (R-Rockwall), Mike McCaul (R-Austin), Ted Poe (R-Humble), and Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) voted for the bill initially and also voted to override the veto. Democrats taking the same stand were Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo), Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), Chet Edwards (D-Waco), Charlie Gonzalez (D-San Antonio), Al Green (D-Houston), Gene Green (D-Houston), and Ruben Hinojosa (D-Mercedes). Also voting “yes” twice were Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Houston), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Dallas), Nick Lampson (D-Stafford), Solomon Ortiz (D-Corpus Christi), and Ciro Rodriguez (D-San Antonio).

  • U.S. Reps. John Culberson (R-Houston), Kay Granger (R-Fort Worth), Pete Sessions (R-Dallas), and Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon) all voted against the bill, but then voted to override the veto.

  • U.S. Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tyler) and Silvestre Reyes (D-El Paso) missed the first House vote on HR 6331 but didn’t miss the chance to vote to override the president’s veto.

TMB CLEARS UP LICENSE BACKLOG

TMA told the Texas Legislature last year the Texas Medical Board (TMB) needed more staff and technology to process a huge backlog of licenses from physicians who want to practice in Texas. Lawmakers agreed, and last week TMB ratified our faith in its ability. Only 33 applications awaited screening in June, TMB reported, and the oldest was only 14 days old.

CONGRATULATIONS AHEAD OF TIME TO CONNIE

The American Association of Medical Society Executives (AAMSE) gathers this week in Minneapolis for its annual conference. Our own Connie Minogue, TMA’s vice president for marketing, is unopposed to be AAMSE’s president-elect. Way to go!

EVPGram TAKES A SUMMER RECESS

We’ll be back in your inbox and fax tray late next month.

Monday, July 14, 2008

TMA READY FOR MEDICARE VETO PEN

The bill that reverses the 10.6-percent cut in physicians’ Medicare payments moved through the U.S. Senate dramatically. Now we’re waiting for President Bush’s expected veto, as the White House promised shortly after the bill passed. We are very pleased that Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison joined seven other GOP senators in switching votes to support the bill. “Texas physicians want to commend the courage and wisdom of both [of our senators], who voted for their constituents – our patients – today,” said TMA President Josie Williams, MD. “We cannot thank them enough.” Senators Hutchison and Cornyn both said they will vote to override a presidential veto when that comes, and we really appreciate that. U.S. Rep. John Culberson (R-Houston), who originally voted against the bill, also said he will vote to override. TMA will send members an alert to spur calls and e-mails to our congressional delegation as soon as the president vetoes the bill. We will not only ask that they vote to override a veto but also encourage them to begin work on a long-term solution to the Medicare payment problem. Despite the confusion, we urge physicians to continue to submit Medicare claims on time.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU

Senators Cornyn and Hutchison definitely heard TMA’s message on the Medicare bill loud and clear. TMA worked with our county societies to arrange dozens of solid stories in Texas and national news media. More important, TMA members flooded the senators’ phone lines and e-mail boxes with personal messages. Thank you for explaining to them why you were so upset at the prospect of the payment cut. Over the past 30 days, each of the senators received more than 1,400 e-mails and more than 400 phone calls from Texas physicians through the TMA and American Medical Association Grassroots Action Centers. Thank you for taking the time to engage in this critical political process. This is an important part of what makes TMA so effective.

FAREWELL TO A TEXAS LION OF MEDICINE

We join physicians and patients from around the world in mourning the death of the great Houston cardiac surgeon, Michael DeBakey, MD. TMA and many other Houston physicians are paying tribute to the 99-year-old father of modern cardiovascular surgery at events today. We are very proud that he chose to be a TMA member for so many years.

DALLAS RADIOLOGIST EARNS POST

Congratulations to Cynthia Sherry, MD, chair of radiology at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas and president of the Texas Radiological Society, who was elected president of the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE).

BECOME YOUR OWN PAYMENT ADVOCATE

Under pressure to make sure your practice revenues keep up with expenses? You’re not alone. Sign up for TMA’s latest practice management seminar series. Learn how to resolve prompt pay issues including denials and refund requests, and pick up strategies to assess, challenge, and improve health plan ratings of your practice.

Monday, July 7, 2008

CONGRESS IS BACK; WHERE’S THE MEDICARE FIX?

Our senators and representatives are back in Washington today after the July 4 recess. It’s time for them to put away the holiday picnic fixings and get to work immediately fixing the Medicare payment system for physicians. TMA leaders are arranging meetings with U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose votes allowed the 10.6-percent cut in Medicare payments to become official on July 1. In the meantime, please use the TMA Grassroots Action Center to contact our senators and send this vital, two-part message:
  • Make it your No.1 priority to pass legislation that will reverse the cuts before they further limit access to physicians for elderly patients on Medicare and Texans with disabilities; and
  • Begin work right away on a bill that will permanently fix the Medicare payment system, such as Senator Cornyn's S 2729, so that it can obtain the bipartisan support it needs to pass.

This weekend’s Houston Chronicle published an excellent article explaining the pending access crisis in Texas, and The New York Times had a great editorial urging Congress to take quick action.

WHAT DOES THE CUT MEAN?

Federal officials say Medicare will hold all physicians’ claims for the first 10 business days of July to give Congress time to reverse the 10.6-percent cut in payments. (For details, see the question-and-answer document from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services [CMS].) Because of the July 4 holiday, that hold will run through July 15. TMA calculates that for Texas physicians treating Medicare patients, the hold involves $20 million a day, or $5,000 per physician over the 10-day period. CMS tells us this will cover 125,000 to 150,000 claims. We have published the new Medicare payment schedules on the TMA Web site, and also have information on physicians’ Medicare participation options (PDF). If Congress doesn’t act to reverse this debacle, the American Medical Association says, it will cost Texas $860 million through the end of 2009, an average of $18,000 per physician. That will affect more than 3.5 million Texas Medicare patients and military dependants on TRICARE.

OBAMA VS. McCAIN – SAVE THE DATE

What will the presidential contest mean for health care in America? Come to the TMA 2008 Fall Conference for the answer, an in-depth look at protecting Texas health care liability reforms, and a musical comedy about “Damaged Care” in America. The meeting is Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Hyatt Regency Austin. TMA business meetings begin on Friday, Sept. 5. Online registration for the conference opens next week. Make plans to be there.

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 residents and young physicians, Podcast TMA, even Twitter. Check ’em out.