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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

TMA FIRMLY ENGAGED IN HEALTH SYSTEM REFORM DEBATE

Joined by other state medical societies and the American Medical Association, TMA is taking an active role in health system reform debates underway in both houses of Congress. Along with the California Medical Association, we wrote a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to oppose the use of another one-year “Band-Aid” Senator Baucus’ bill would place on the Sustainable Growth Rate formula Medicare uses to determine physician payments. We also took strong positions against the faulty physician rating systems in the bill, the proposed $350 “enrollment fee” for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, and other provisions. TMA President Bill Fleming, MD, also issued a news release and sent a letter asking the entire Texas Delegation in Congress to support extensive health insurance reforms. Dr. Fleming is urging TMA and TMA Alliance members to write Congress and President Obama in support of these reforms. We were pleased that the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved an amendment by U.S. Reps. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Lewisville), and Gene Green (D-Houston) that would require hospitals and health plans to be more transparent about the costs of health care services.

ME AND MY DOCTOR CAMPAIGN TIP OF THE WEEK

Here’s another way to make sure your patients can best take advantage of our Me and My Doctor health system reform materials: Give four 28-cent stamps to every patient who promises to send our “fix what’s wrong, keep what’s good” postcards to Congress and President Obama. For $1.12, you can take a simple step to make sure our message gets through. Order more free materials through the TMA Web site or by calling the TMA Knowledge Center at (800) 880-7955. Don’t forget to sign the Twitter petition to President Obama and join the Me and My Doctor cause on Facebook. Learn more about how the campaign and its message were developed in a Podcast TMA interview with Council on Legislation Chair Dan McCoy, MD, and TMA’s political consultant Bryan Eppstein.

FLEMING TALKS REFORM WITH BENEFIT SPECIALISTS

Dr. Fleming took part in a town hall meeting in Austin sponsored by the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists. He shared TMA’s views on health system reform and challenged audience members to rethink their views on the forces that are driving up the costs of health care. Dr. Fleming also joined TMA staff in a discussion with leaders of the Texas Dietetic Association, looking for common legislative ground on wellness, diabetes, and other issues.

TMA PUSHES FOR PHYSICAL EDUCATION AND HEALTH CLASSES

We joined with numerous other public health advocacy organizations in urging the State Board of Education to keep as much leverage as possible on high school students to take health and physical education classes. Although recent legislation stripped those classes from recommended graduation course plans, TMA pushed the board to include them in the minimum and distinguished graduation plans. “The opportunity to decrease the burden of obesity and promote good health in Texas is an investment in our children and the future of Texas,” Dr. Fleming wrote.

ROHACK TO BE FETED AT AMA INTERIM MEETING

Our own Jim Rohack, MD, president of the AMA, will be the guest of honor at a Taste of Texas reception at the interim meeting of the AMA House of Delegates, Nov. 7-10 in Houston. Dr. Rohack’s family, alma maters, and specialty societies will join with TMA, county societies, and Scott & White Healthcare in hosting an event that will share Texas’ wide variety of gastronomic delicacies for physicians from across the country.

CORRECTION: EMR BONUS ONLY AVAILABLE FOR MEDICARE OR MEDICAID

An item in the Sept. 14 EVPGram promoting TMA’s upcoming “Prepare Your Practice for Electronic Medical Records” (EMRs) seminar series incorrectly implied that physicians can earn bonuses from both Medicare and Medicaid for using EMRs. The bonuses apply to one program or the other, not to both. Through Medicare, physicians can earn a bonus of up to $44,000 for “meaningful use” of EMRs through 2015. Medicaid-participating physicians can earn up to $63,750.

Monday, September 14, 2009

REPORT: VARIATIONS IN HEALTH COSTS DRIVEN BY ECONOMIC AND HEALTH FACTORS

Poverty and poor health, not pervasive overtreatment and overtesting, are the causes of much of the geographic variation in health care spending in the United States, according to a new report from the Physicians’ Foundations. The report found that wealthier communities use more services and have better health and better outcomes; low-income individuals use more services, yet have worse outcomes; and patients who are in the poorest health use the most health care services and have the poorest outcomes. In a study prepared for President Obama and Congress, Richard Cooper, MD, professor of medicine and senior fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, and others also found that today’s health care system doesn’t have the resources or workforce to handle the load of new patients that would come with universal access envisioned by national reform legislation. It calls for substantial increases in federal support for undergraduate and graduate medical education to offset a projected shortage of 200,000 physicians by 2025. I highly recommend you take the time to read the report (PDF) or the executive summary (PDF). It includes vital information our national leaders must consider as they make decisions that will impact you, your patients, and the entire health care delivery system for many years to come, if not forever.

ME AND MY DOCTOR CAMPAIGN TIP OF THE WEEK

TMA-member physicians report that they get the most out of our Me and My Doctor health system reform materials by making sure patients encounter them in various locations throughout their offices. Placing the campaign posters and postcards in waiting rooms, exam rooms, and at check-in and check-out stations gives physicians and office staff multiple opportunities to discuss health system reform with interested patients. You can learn more about how the campaign and its message were developed in a Podcast TMA interview with Council on Legislation Chair Dan McCoy, MD, and TMA’s political and advertising consultant Bryan Eppstein. Order more materials through the TMA Web site or by calling the TMA Knowledge Center at (800) 880-7955. And don’t forget to sign the Twitter petition to President Obama and join the Me and My Doctor cause on Facebook.

LEARN HOW TO RUN FOR OFFICE AND WIN AT TEXPAC CAMPAIGN SCHOOL NEXT MONTH IN FRISCO

With more physicians and alliance members running for local, state, and national offices, we’ve pulled together an all-star cast of consultants and current officeholders to share their secrets at the TEXPAC Campaign School. It’s part one of a weekend of political and legislative strategizing that includes the TMA Friends of Medicine Awards and Dinner. Register today for the TMA/TEXPAC/specialty society legislative retreat (PDF), Oct. 23-25 at the Westin Stonebriar in Frisco.

TMLT CELEBRATES 30 YEARS OF SERVING TEXAS PHYSICIANS

Today we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Texas Medical Liability Trust (TMLT). TMA formed TMLT in 1978 as a self-insurance trust in the midst of a severe liability crisis. TMA-member physicians wanted to pool their money to have more control and not be directed by the insurance industry. TMLT’s first employee, Ennis Bogle, who served as an administrator as the company prepared for operations to begin in 1979, will be on hand for today’s ceremony along with current and former governing board members, and attorneys who have represented physicians over the years. TMLT is now the largest physician liability insurance company in Texas with nearly 15,000 policies in place and assets of nearly $670 million. Since the passage of Texas health care liability reforms in 2003, TMLT premiums have dropped by almost 50 percent.

HOUSE CALL TONIGHT IN GREENVILLE

TMA’s popular House Call program, where physicians listen to patients’ hopes and fears about health care and health system reform, travels to Greenville tonight. The 6 pm event at Fletcher Warren Civic Center is cosponsored by the Hunt County Alliance for Economic Opportunity; the Greenville Chamber, Convention & Visitors Bureau; and Hunt Regional Healthcare.

CAN YOU EARN YOUR ELECTRONIC MEDICAL RECORD BONUS?

Is your practice ready to demonstrate “meaningful use” of electronic medical records (EMRs) so you are in line to earn Medicare and Medicaid bonuses of up to $100,000 through 2015? Do you know what to look for in an EMR, how to compare the various vendors’ systems, and how to make an EMR work for your practice? Check out TMA’s newest seminar and vendor demonstrations beginning in Austin Oct. 8 and traveling to Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

FALL CONFERENCE TIMED PERFECTLY FOR HEALTH SYSTEM REFORM DISCUSSION

Congress returns to Washington today from one of its most tumultuous August recesses in recent memory. President Obama addresses the country in prime time tomorrow. The cause of all this ruckus, of course, is the debate over pending health system reform legislation. TMA physician leaders emphasized their keen interest in this red hot issue by turning out in record numbers on a holiday weekend for the 2009 TMA Fall Conference, where system reform was the No. 1 topic. American Medical Association President Jim Rohack, MD; U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo); and TMA Council on Legislation Chair Dan McCoy, MD, presented various views on the debate in a wide-ranging discussion before the packed audience. Physicians polled in the room said Congress should hold more hearings or a public referendum before moving forward with any legislation. Nancy Dickey, MD, chair of TMA’s Health System Reform Task Force, served as moderator for the forum. Some highlights:
  • Dr. Rohack summed up AMA’s position on health reform legislation this way: “If it’s good for our patients, it’s going to be good for physicians.” He compared health system reform to a Rubik’s cube, saying it will take many moves to arrive at the right solution.
  • Representative Cuellar received a standing ovation when he called for nationwide health care liability reform. He said his top priorities for health reform legislation are that it reduce costs, increase coverage, and preserve choice without increasing the national debt. “The ink is not dry on this bill. You have to stay involved. You have to stay engaged," said Representative Cuellar, the lone congressional Blue Dog Democrat from Texas.
  • Dr. McCoy called on physicians to use TMA’s new Me and My Doctor campaign to bring their patients into the debate. He said TMA likes the health insurance industry reforms in the current House bill – but would like to see more, is concerned that the bill lacks a permanent fix in the physicians’ Medicare payment formula, and wants strong liability reforms and protection for physician-owned hospitals and other facilities. See TMA’s Health System Reform Principles.

GOVERNOR, SENATOR MEET WITH TMA LEADERS

Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison both spent time talking with TMA leaders at Fall Conference. Governor Perry stopped by to share with the Board of Trustees his commitment to medicine, particularly rural health and tort reform. Senator Hutchison spoke to the TEXPAC Board of Directors, sharing her insight and observations on how national health system reform should wend its way through the Senate process this fall. Both also stressed their close ties to medicine, their vow to protect the state’s 2003 health care liability reforms, and their desire to work with physicians to improve Texas health care. Both Perry and Hutchison are battling for the Republican gubernatorial nomination next spring. TEXPAC has made no endorsements in the governor’s race or any other 2010 contest, but the board did approve a process to analyze and make endorsements as soon as its next meeting at the TMA legislative retreat in Frisco in late October.

ME AND MY DOCTOR CAMPAIGN BEGINS WITH SNAIL MAIL, MOVES TO SOCIAL MEDIA

Most active TMA-member physicians with office practices received their first packet of TMA’s health system reform patient education campaign materials in a big envelope delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. But Dr. McCoy urged members at Fall Conference to use much newer communication methods to spread the campaign’s “fix what’s broken, keep what’s good” message. TMA has developed a Twitter petition and a cause on Facebook in hopes that the Me and My Doctor campaign will “go viral,” Dr. McCoy said. See our special Web page for step-by-step directions. You can order more campaign materials online or by calling TMA Knowledge Center at (800) 880-7955.

HEALTH COMMISSIONER SHARES LATEST ON H1N1 FLU BUG FOR THE FALL

David Lakey, MD, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, called on physicians to get flu shots for themselves and their staff … and to get ready for a surge in H1N1 influenza strains along with seasonal flu this fall. Dr. Lakey shared the latest epidemiological surveillance reports and provided an update on development of an H1N1 vaccination. Physicians can keep up with latest news online at www.texasflu.org or by following DSHSflu on Twitter. Sept. 13 is the last day for Texas physicians to preregister their practices to receive the H1N1 flu shot.

DON'T MISS THE TMA LEGISLATIVE RETREAT

Thinking of running for political office? Ready to dig in to state and national goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics for health care legislation? Want to honor Texas medicine’s champions from the 2009 Texas Legislature? Register today for the TMA/TEXPAC/specialty society legislative retreat (PDF), Oct. 23-25 at the Westin Stonebriar in Frisco.