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Monday, September 29, 2008

LARGE GROUP LEADERS SHARE LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES

About 30 physicians and staff from Dallas-area large group practices joined TMA and Dallas County Medical Society staff for TMA’s first Large Group Forum. Led by TMA President Josie Williams, MD, and Council on Legislation member Les Secrest, MD, the meeting was the first of three scheduled across the state to discuss with the groups issues facing medicine next year in both the Texas Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Topping their list are payment issues (Medicare and commercial), protecting our liability caps, and scope of practice concerns. The remaining forums are in San Antonio this week and Houston next week.

MILLION-DOLLAR DISASTER RELIEF FUND LAUNCHED

Thanks to UnitedHealthcare’s generous $100,000 donation, TMA’s Hurricane Ike Disaster Relief Program is underway. As we did following Hurricane Rita in 2005, TMA is putting together a disaster relief program to help physicians rebuild their practices and begin treating patients as quickly as possible. Our goal is to raise $1 million. The TMA Foundation is working to raise funds along with physician and county society donors. If you or your organization want to help out, please contact me, or go to the TMA Foundation’s Web page. The relief program will begin formal outreach to physicians in storm-damaged areas in the next few weeks.

CANCER SOCIETY HONORS SENATOR NELSON

Congratulations to a long-time friend of medicine. Texas State Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) received the National Distinguished Advocacy Award from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). That’s ACS CAN’s highest honor. It recognizes her “consistent leadership in legislation to reduce the burden of cancer,” including the bill that created the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and the constitutional amendment that authorized a $3 billion investment to fund it. Senator Nelson also is receiving the ACS’s highest state advocacy recognition, the True Grit Award, for her work on the institute.

TEXAS SENATORS STAND UP FOR PHYSICIANS

Many thanks to U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn for leading the fight once again to stop Congress from paying for a new program with fictional savings from restrictions on physician ownership in hospitals and other health care facilities. Their actions helped keep such limitations off of the bill that requires mental health coverage parity.

SPECIALTY SOCIETIES RECOGNIZE TEXAS PHYSICIAN LEADERS

Congratulations to a pair of fine TMA-member physicians for these excellent accomplishments:
  • Ronald B. Kuppersmith, MD, MBA, of College Station, has been elected 2008-09 president-elect of the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery; and
  • The American College of Emergency Physicians named Angela Siler Fisher, MD, of Conroe, a “Hero of Emergency Medicine” for her work on involving emergency physicians in organized medicine.

Monday, September 22, 2008

TMA RAISING FUNDS TO HELP IKE-DAMAGED PRACTICES REBUILD, RECONNECT

We continue to survey the damage Hurricane Ike wrought on physician practices in Houston, Galveston, and East Texas. As we did following Hurricane Rita in 2005, TMA is putting together a disaster relief program to help physicians rebuild their practices and begin treating patients as quickly as possible. Along with the Harris and Montgomery county medical societies, we have several assessment surveys in the field. But we know that communication is still spotty in the storm-damaged areas. Please send any information about hurricane-damaged practices, and what help or services they need to reopen, to CJ Bradford in TMA’s Public Health Department. We hope to announce details of the relief program soon. Meanwhile, for insight into what our physicians have seen and done on the ground, please read the “Voices of Ike” feature on the TMA blog. If you have more stories to add, please send them our way.

TEXAS PHYSICIANS TESTIFY ON MEDICAID, CONTROLLED DRUG TRACKING

Because it meets in formal session for only 140 days every other year, the Texas Legislature accomplishes a lot of important work – especially with complex issues – through committee hearings and investigations between sessions. TMA stood strongly for physicians and patients at two such hearings last week:
  • San Antonio pulmonologist John Holcomb, MD, represented TMA at a joint hearing of the Senate Finance and Health and Human Services committees. Dr. Holcomb is chair of TMA’s Select Committee on Medicaid, CHIP, and the Uninsured, which has been doing extensive work of its own lately. He thanked lawmakers for the historic 25- and 10-percent increases they approved last year in physicians’ payments for children’s and adults’ services in the Medicaid program, respectively. But Dr. Holcomb told legislators that TMA continues to seek Medicare parity for Medicaid payments as well as parity among payments for children’s and adults’ services in Medicaid. At that hearing, Medicaid officials said the program is on track to go over budget by $1.2 billion this fiscal year (PDF).
  • Austin anesthesiologist Cathy Scholl, MD, and Fort Worth emergency medicine specialist Jim Cox, MD, testified for TMA at the House Public Health Subcommittee on Access to Controlled Substances. They outlined physicians’ concerns with the state’s new program to collect more information from prescriptions for Schedule II-V controlled substances.

SURVEY FINDS QUALITY-IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMS DO LITTLE FOR A FEW

How many Texas physicians use health plan and government quality-improvement programs, and do they actually improve patient care? Not many and not much, according to a baseline survey we recently completed for TMA President Josie Williams, MD. Of all the programs surveyed, Medicare’s Physician Quality Reporting Initiative showed the greatest participation, at just 30 percent of the 774 responding physicians. Programs physicians implemented as part of Maintenance of Certification requirements for certification renewal were the most effective; 54 percent reported they improved patient care.

Monday, September 15, 2008

TEXAS PHYSICIANS STEP UP TO IKE

I am extremely proud once again of how Texas physicians, TMA, and our county medical societies prepared for and responded to the terrible destruction caused by Hurricane Ike. We continue to monitor the situation in Galveston, Houston, and East Texas and pray that all of our friends there can get back on their feet as quickly as possible. For insight into what our physicians have seen and done on the ground, please see the “Voices of Ike” feature on the TMA blog. If you have more stories to add, please send them our way. Here are some other highlights:
  • TMA and county society staff participated in State Operations Center conference calls throughout the week leading up to Ike’s Saturday morning landfall in Galveston.
  • County societies around the state are helping to provide medical staff for evacuation shelters, which may remain open for another week or longer. Please contact your county society to volunteer, and add your name and information to TMA’s Physicians Rapid Response Team Sign-up Form.
  • TMA gathered and posted useful Ike-related information from state agencies, health plans, and others on our Web site’s Disaster Preparedness Resource Center. We will continue to add updates.
  • The American Medical Association provided access to ICERx, a private, secure online source of available medication history information for patients evacuated from their homes. AMA also dispatched Italo Subbarao, DO, director of AMA’s Public Health Readiness Office, to Austin.

TMA SURVEY FINDS LIABILITY REFORMS BRING MORE CARE, MORE DOCTORS TO TEXANS

Texans now have more physicians offering more care, thanks to the state’s landmark 2003 health care liability reforms, according to the results of a new TMA survey (PDF). Released to mark the fifth anniversary of the passage of Proposition 12, the survey found Texas physicians are providing more services and caring for more patients with complex or high-risk problems. The survey also documented that the improved liability climate is an extremely important factor behind the rush of new physicians to Texas. “It proves once again that the reforms have worked,” said TMA President Josie Williams, MD.

FOUR TEXAS MEDICAL SCHOOLS LAUDED

Four of the top 10 medical schools for Hispanic students are in Texas, says Hispanic Business magazine. The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, No. 1 on the list, “emphasizes educating doctors who will practice in medically under-served areas of Texas.” The others are The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (No. 4), The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (No. 5), and The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston (No. 7). Congratulations, and keep up the good work.

TEXAS CHILDHOOD IMMUNIZATION RATES HIT FIVE-YEAR HIGH

A national study says the Texas rate was 77.3 percent for 2007, up from 65 percent in 2002. We’re now ranked No. 22 in the country. If you want to help continue the momentum, please participate in TMA’s Be Wise – Immunize program.

Monday, September 8, 2008

TEXPAC VOTES TO RESTORE CORNYN ENDORSEMENT

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn got the message when TEXPAC pulled our endorsement for his reelection this summer after he did not vote to prevent the 10.6-percent cut in physicians’ Medicare payments. He subsequently voted for the bill, after hearing from many Texas physicians, and then voted to override President Bush’s veto. This gave medicine breathing room to work for a permanent Medicare payment fix before December 2009, and Senator Cornyn is campaigning on that issue. Our actions earned TMA and TEXPAC positive national publicity and helped to focus attention on the serious problems with the Medicare financing system. After a lengthy and passionate discussion, the TEXPAC Board of Directors voted overwhelmingly and in bipartisan fashion to reinstate our endorsement. Sometimes you fight hardest with those to whom you are closest. We look forward to working with Senator Cornyn to ensure Medicare’s long-term viability.

TMLT CUTS RATES AGAIN

Texas Medical Liability Trust (TMLT) will reduce insurance premiums an average 4.7 percent and provide a 22.5-percent dividend for renewing policyholders, effective Jan. 1. This is TMLT’s sixth straight rate cut since the passage of our 2003 liability reforms. The cumulative savings for Texas physicians from TMLT alone amount to about $380 million. That’s more than all the liability insurance written for physicians each year in the entire state of Pennsylvania. Here’s another sign of the success of Proposition 12: The Texas Medical Board licensed a record 3,621 new physicians this fiscal year; that’s 9 percent more than the previous record of 3,324, set just last year. Texas has licensed 14,499 new physicians since the 2003 liability reforms passed.

WHO’S BETTER ON HEALTH CARE – OBAMA OR MCCAIN?

If you missed the great debate at Fall Conference, you can still read our detailed analysis of the John McCain and Barack Obama health care platforms and how they compare to TMA policy. While you’re at it, take the TMA 2008 Presidential Poll.

BOARD ADOPTS TMA 2015 PLAN

How can TMA make sure we’re ready with the distinctive solutions you’ll need for the challenges you will face in caring for your patients in the next decade? That’s the big question the TMA Board of Trustees wrestled with at a planning session last month and again this past weekend. The board decided that the four broad goals of the TMA 2010 plan remain relevant and appropriate. They rearranged our priority strategies, though, and added some new ones to produce the TMA 2015 document. We will publish it online shortly and ask for your comments and suggestions.

GOODBYE TO A SPECIAL FRIEND

Anyone who knew Louis Gibson, MD, will feel the same sharp pains that struck me when I learned of his passing. He was a wonderful surgeon, the longtime head of the Corsicana Clinic, and an important behind-the-scenes player in Texas medicine when I came to TMA 20 years ago. Dr. Gibson and I made numerous trips to Washington, D.C., together to meet with Texans in Congress and his good friend Sen. Phil Gramm. My most sincere sympathies to his family.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

TEXAS MEDICINE RALLIES WITH GUSTAV AID

Thank God the amount damage and casualties was much smaller than it could have been, but, like so many others, the family of Texas medicine was ready to do our part for the victims of Hurricane Gustav. I especially want to thank and congratulate the Smith, Bexar, and Travis county medical societies, who helped organize medical teams to care for special needs patients evacuated from Louisiana and the Texas gulf coast. Our partners in Dallas County also were geared up to handle mass evacuations. Many physicians stayed behind to provide emergency care after Jefferson, Orange, and Hardin counties were evacuated. And our TMA staff served as a vital link between the state emergency management operations, our county societies, and local relief efforts. We pray now that everyone returns home safely and begins, once again, to rebuild.

MCCAIN VS. OBAMA AT TMA FALL CONFERENCE

Which candidate’s health care platform will be the best for patients and physicians? The debate takes center stage Saturday at 2008 TMA Fall Conference. U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Lewisville), a health advisor for the John McCain Campaign, and Erwin Tan, MD, from the Barack Obama Campaign, will face off at the 10 am General Session at the Hyatt Regency Austin. We also have an early morning tort reform session – both practical and political – and the “Damaged Care” musical satire revue at lunch. Take our straw poll.

CATCHING UP ON THE SUMMER NEWS

EVPGram was on vacation the past six weeks, but the leaders and staff of your medical society certainly weren’t. Some news you might have missed: