About TMA Related Organizations TMA Calendar Site Map Contact Us

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

U.S. SENATE CANDIDATES KEEP THE GLOVES ON AT TEXPAC FORUM

Very little mudslinging, a good bit of humor, and plenty of respect for physicians marked the first forum for all six prospective candidates for the 2010 U.S. Senate race in Texas. Hosted by TEXPAC and moderated by former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, the forum gave the four men and two women the chance to share their views on health system reform, Washington politics, and other key issues. The race will be to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is expected to resign soon to campaign full-time for governor. All six told the packed audience at the TMA/TEXPAC/specialty society legislative retreat in Frisco that Congress ought to heed the advice of physicians on health system reform. The six candidates are Texas Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, State Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano), former Texas Comptroller John Sharp, Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, and Houston Mayor Bill White. Couldn’t be there? You can watch video of the entire event online.

LEADERS CHART TMA'S 2011 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES

More than 100 physician and TMA Alliance leaders at the TMA/TEXPAC/specialty society legislative retreat began laying the groundwork for medicine’s strategic priorities in the 2011 session of the Texas Legislature. Among their recommendations, we need to:
  • Push for transparency and accountability in health insurers’ medical loss ratio reporting and prescription drug formulary tiering;
  • Require regulation of silent PPOs;
  • Provide real-time benefit information from health insurance companies;
  • Continue to defend the 2003 medical liability reforms;
  • Advocate strongly to preserve existing Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program eligibility in light of an expected multibillion-dollar budget deficit in the 2011 session;
  • Push lifestyle changes to battle obesity and cancer, improve immunizations, and promote wellness and safety;
  • Work for an adequately funded, strong and fair Texas Medical Board (TMB), with due process protections for physicians under investigation;
  • Help rural physicians maintain their practices while protecting physicians’ clinical autonomy;
  • Restore Medicaid funding for graduate medical education;
  • Put advanced practice nurses and physician assistants under the supervision of TMB; and
  • Educate the public and lawmakers that, regardless of what happens in national health system reform, millions of newly insured patients will have difficulty finding a physician if physicians are not compensated adequately.
Specialty society representatives also laid out their priorities for the 2011 Texas Legislature. The family of medicine must continue to work together in promoting issues on which we agree and finding common ground when specialties have different points of view.

PICKING UP THE PIECES AFTER SGR REPEAL FAILS

As we explained in a special letter to all members from TMA President Bill Fleming, MD, the U.S. Senate failed miserably in a vote to consider legislation to repeal the failed formula that’s been driving physicians’ Medicare payments into the ground. So where do we go from here? There’s no question that the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula must go, and we need comprehensive reform of how Medicare pays physicians. Congress needs to include this issue as part of any larger health system reform bill because you can’t have health reform if patients can’t find a physician to treat them. One lesson we learned from the defeat of S 1776 is that many senators from both parties believe we must find a way to pay off the $245 billion debt the SGR has racked up over the past decade. Fixing the Medicare payment system is in the best interest of both Republicans and Democrats, but we cannot let either party use physicians or patients as political footballs in the highly partisan health reform battles. As TMA Council on Legislation Chair Dan McCoy, MD, said at the TMA/TEXPAC/specialty society legislative retreat, “Health system reform is a train moving at lightning speed and going nowhere.” U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Lewisville), urged physicians to remain involved and engaged in the debate. “You hold the key to the future of professionalism in our profession, and I don't want you to give it away too easily,” he said.

TMA MEMBER TO LEAD ACIP

Congratulations to Carol J. Baker, MD, of Houston, the new chair of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Baker is a professor of pediatrics and of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius made the appointment.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CRITICAL MEDICARE VOTES LOOM ON S 1776; CONTACT SENATORS CORNYN AND HUTCHISON

All TMA leaders need to make a pair of phone calls or send a pair of e-mails to Washington today. And then you need to ask your colleagues to do the same. Vote “YES” on S 1776 is the message that Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) need to hear from their constituents. The bill would repeal the unsustainable sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula (PDF) that drives down physicians’ Medicare payments year after year. It also would stop the planned 21-percent cut in fees scheduled for Jan. 1, eliminate the $245 billion debt (PDF) that has accumulated under the SGR, and lay the foundation for a new Medicare payment update system. The bill basically zeroes out the SGR formula. Under this bill, physicians over the next decade are getting a zero percent update, but it is the first step in the process of working to get a fair payment system. Until we can eliminate the SGR, we have no hope of getting a positive update system. One or more of the votes on S 1776 – including the decision to waive the constraints of the budget act – will require the votes of at least 60 senators. “Conventional pundits think it won't happen,” American Medical Association President Jim Rohack, MD, wrote in his latest blog entry. “But if that was the spirit of the American physician, then mortality rates for acute myocardial infarctions would still be 40 percent rather than 3 percent, and polio would still be managed with iron lungs rather than vaccines.” Use the TMA Grassroots Action Center for an easy way to e-mail Senators Cornyn and Hutchison, or call the AMA grassroots hotline at (800) 833-6354.

TEXANS TAKE THE HELM

Congratulations to Roland Goertz, MD, of Waco. The Congress of Delegates of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) made a wise decision when it chose Dr. Goertz to be AAFP’s president-elect. He will serve as AAFP president in 2010-2011. The Congress of Delegates also reelected Leah Raye Mabry, MD, of San Antonio as speaker of the congress. Both physicians have served TMA and Texas well over the years and continue to do a great job representing their patients and their profession on the national scene. Back home in Texas, Bohn Allen, MD, of Arlington, the former TMA president, was elected president of the Texas Surgical Society for 2010-2011. For a general surgeon in Texas, this is the ultimate recognition by your peers.

TMA TO HOST FIRST CANDIDATES' FORUM FOR 2010 U.S. SENATE RACE

Former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff will serve as moderator Saturday night, when six candidates who want to be your next U.S. senator make their case at the TMA/TEXPAC/specialty society legislative retreat (PDF) at the Westin Stonebriar in Frisco. This will be the first forum for all prospective candidates in the 2010 race for the Senate. Incumbent Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is running for governor. The six candidates are: Texas Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, State Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano), former Texas Comptroller John Sharp, Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, and Houston Mayor Bill White. Each candidate has been asked to present his or her qualifications and positions on health care reform and other key federal issues of interest to Texas voters. If you can’t make it to Frisco for the event, you can watch it live on the Internet.

FINAL HOUSE CALL SET FOR THURSDAY NIGHT IN EL PASO

The last TMA House Call on health system reform will be in El Paso on Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at Cathedral High School at 1309 N. Stanton. Leading the event will be Cliff Moy, MD, TMA House of Delegates vice speaker, and Luis Urrea II, MD, El Paso County Medical Society president. More than 3,000 Texas patients and physicians have participated in the 17 House Calls we’ve conducted to date to hear what Texans think about our health care system and plans for reform.

Monday, October 12, 2009

ARE YOU READY FOR A MEDICARE AUDIT? TMA CAN HELP

Medicare will launch its Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) program in March, and any physician who bills Medicare is fair game for an audit. RACs will mine Part B claims data to find underpayments and overpayments, looking for physicians whose Medicare billings are higher or lower than those of their peers. To help you prevent an audit – and prepare for one if it happens – TMA is starting a new seminar series this month. The half-day class will address common billing and coding errors, frequently asked questions on Medicare payment policies, and how to appeal claim denials. You can register for the seminars online and earn up to 5 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditsTM.

TELL SENATOR CORNYN TO KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK ON HEALTH SYSTEM REFORM

With a report card from government scorekeepers (PDF) saying its draft bill would save the U.S. Treasury a net $81 billion over the next 10 years, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee is set to vote on the plan tomorrow. TMA is asking Texas physicians to contact Sen. John Cornyn immediately and ask him to continue to fight to “fix what’s wrong and keep what’s good” in the country’s health care system. “Senate Cornyn has been a stalwart for patients and physicians on the Finance Committee,” said TMA President Bill Fleming, MD. “We have noticed, and appreciate, his work on liability reform, Medicare payments to physicians, and the independent Medicare commission. We urge the senator to continue to push for bipartisan solutions to these terribly complex problems.” In addition to those issues, TMA is asking the senator to work for real health insurance company reform, to push for workable options for the uninsured, and to stop the harsh limits on physician ownership of hospitals and health care facilities. Please call Senator Cornyn today or use the TMA’s Grassroots Action Center to craft and write a personal e-mail to him in less than two minutes total. Need more of our “Fix What’s Wrong, Keep What Works” posters, stickers, and postcards for your office? Order them online or call the TMA Knowledge Center at (800) 880-7955.

MCALLEN HOUSE CALL DRAWS 150 PATIENTS AND PHYSICIANS

TMA Trustee Lewis Foxhall, MD, and Hidalgo-Starr County Medical Society leaders hosted the latest in our physician-patient listening sessions in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. You can watch the video of the event online. We also have posted a summary of the patient feedback on the state of our health care system that we received from our first 16 House Calls. We’re using these comments, plus our House-of-Delegates approved principles to guide our advocacy on health system reform. Our final House Call is scheduled for next Thursday in El Paso.

LOOK FOR WEEKLY HOTLINE FROM TMA FLU FIGHTERS

Whether its H1N1 influenza or the seasonal flu, a subcommittee of the TMA Committee on Infectious Diseases has the answers to your questions. The TMA Flu Fighters are sending a weekly e-mail newsletter on how to prepare your practice for the rush of flu patients, how to recognize and treat them, and how to obtain and bill for H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccine. All actively practicing TMA member-physicians have been subscribed automatically to the Flu Fighters Hotline.

TMLT AMENDMENT WILL PROTECT PHYSICIANS FROM LIABILITY SUITS

Texas Medical Liability Trust (TMLT) leaders are working with the American Medical Association, state medical associations, and liability carriers around the country to prevent health care system reform from opening new avenues for lawsuits against physicians. TMLT sent its proposed amendment to U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and to U.S. Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Thomas Carper (D-Del.). Without the amendment, physicians who do not follow federal standards of care could face much higher burdens of proof in liability cases, which would in turn increase liability claims and payouts and drive significant rate increases in the future. AMA also sent a strong letter to Representative Waxman (PDF) on this issue.

FED HIT CHIEF HAS BILLIONS FOR PHYSICIANS' OFFICES

I joined other Texas leaders in health information technology (HIT) for a private meeting with David Blumenthal, MD, the National Coordinator for HIT in the Obama administration. Dr. Blumenthal told us about how his office plans to distribute $2 billion in federal stimulus funds to bring electronic health record (EHR) systems to physicians’ offices, starting with primary care physicians. As we reported in last week’s EVPGram, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notified us that our grant application to help physicians become meaningful users of EHRs has passed the first hurdle. We are working with county medical societies and other stakeholders in Texas to plan our next step in the grant process.

Monday, October 5, 2009

TMA BID FOR HIT EXTENSION CENTER GRANT MOVES FORWARD

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notified us that our grant application to help physicians become meaningful users of electronic health records (EHRs) has passed its first hurdle. Funded through the economic stimulus bill that passed this spring, the grants pay for organizations to set up and run health information technology regional extension centers (HITRECs). If we are successful, our HITREC will help Texas physicians “select, successfully implement, and meaningfully use certified EHR technology to improve the quality and value of health care.”

DR. BURROSS WAS A HEALTH CARE LION

I am truly saddened to report that Texas has lost one of its most dedicated and visionary health care leaders with the passing of Cliff Burross, MD. He spent more than 45 years caring for patients in his native Wichita Falls and teaching at the Wichita Falls Family Practice Residency Program. Not only was Dr. Burross a past president of TMA and winner of the TMA Distinguished Service Award, but also he served as president of the Texas Medical Foundation, as a member of the Texas Medical Board and National Board of Medical Examiners, and as a Wichita Falls city alderman. All of us who worked with Dr. Burross will miss his passion for Texas, for patients, and for his profession.

SPANGLER PROMOTED TO TMA VP, MEDICAL ECONOMICS

I am pleased to announce the promotion of Lee Spangler, JD, to the position of vice president, Medical Economics. Lee has demonstrated tremendous value to TMA members and our legal advocacy activities through his work here for the past nine years as a member of the Office of the General Counsel. Because of Lee’s wealth of knowledge and experience in health care policy and law, I am extremely confident he will do an excellent job in his new role, which is critical to the association’s success. Lee is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and St. Edward’s University. Prior to his tenure with TMA, Lee worked with the Texas Department of Insurance and the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners.

DR. BURGESS FILES BILL FOR PERMANENT MEDICARE FINANCING FIX

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Lewisville), filed legislation to eliminate the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula and link physicians’ Medicare payments to the cost of running a practice. “Medicare’s physician fee schedule will pay doctors less next year for the same patients and services they are currently providing, and this flawed formula needs a permanent fix,” he said. If Congress takes no action this year, the SGR formula will force a 21-percent cut in physicians’ Medicare payments on Jan. 1. That cut alone will cost Texas physicians $200 million.

GEORGETOWN PHYSICIAN JOINS HOUSE RACE

You can never have too many doctors in the house. TEXPAC Board Member Charles Schwertner, MD, of Georgetown announced he is running for the open seat in Texas House District 20. He is one of several physician leaders looking to take a seat in the house, including Drs. Martin Basaldua and Susan Curling, who both are running for the open Houston-area seat in House District 127. Are you interested in running for office? Enroll in the TEXPAC Campaign School, part of the TMA/TEXPAC/specialty society legislative retreat (PDF), Oct. 23-25 at the Westin Stonebriar in Frisco.

HOUSE CALL TOMORROW IN MCALLEN

TMA’s popular House Call program, where physicians listen to patients’ hopes and fears about health care and health system reform, moves to McAllen tomorrow. You can join the event from 6:30-8:30 pm at The Forum, 100 E. Laurel Ave., or watch it online.