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Monday, April 26, 2010

SEE YOU IN FORT WORTH

I’m very excited about TexMed 2010 in Fort Worth this week. Our annual meeting returns to Cowtown with some outstanding speakers, a strong House of Delegates agenda, a top-notch Expo Hall, the TMA Foundation’s annual benefit, and the great camaraderie we always enjoy. We have more than 100 hours of free continuing medical education, including special tracks on the new health reform law, healthy lifestyles, health care disparities, electronic medical records, and establishing the efficient practice. Online registration for the event is now closed, but you can register in person at the Omni Hotel or the Fort Worth Convention Center. Registration is free for TMA members and just $75 for your office staff. I look forward to seeing you there.

STATES AND SPECIALTY SOCIETIES PLAN NEW ROLES IN WASHINGTON

In the first step toward beefing up our presence in Washington, D.C., TMA chief lobbyist Darren Whitehurst and I met in the capital with senior staff from the American Medical Association, nine state medical societies, and 11 national specialty societies. We worked on developing a unified strategy for addressing the many new regulations — and legislative follow-ups — that stem from the passage of the new health system reform law. Physician payment and measurements of quality are the underlying issues that will require extensive work. We spent a lot of time talking about the need to replace Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate formula for physician payment, the lack of liability protections in the new law, and the power of the new Independent Payment Advisory Board. The state societies were most worried about physician employment and how to make sure that hospitals don’t grab control of the patient-physician relationship in this new environment. The specialty societies’ biggest concern is the shortage of physicians needed to treat the influx of newly insured patients. I will keep you posted as this effort matures and grows.

"STOP THE MEDICARE MELTDOWN" COALITION STILL GROWING

Another dozen national and state specialty societies have joined TMA’s petition drive to “Stop the Medicare Meltdown.” We’re close to 55,000 signatures now. Please add your name to the online petition or sign one in person at TexMed 2010. Be sure to download TMA’s campaign materials (PDF) to use in your office. Our goal: a rational payment system that automatically keeps up with the cost of running a practice and is backed by a fair, stable funding formula. The current payment freeze lasts until May 31, and we still see no sign of Congress enacting a permanent solution. While we were on Capitol Hill last week, Darren and I met with staff of Texas House members on both the Republican and the Democratic sides. They all supported our call for a new Medicare payment system. Many said they have heard from patients and physicians concerned about doctors’ ability to stay in practice with the 21-percent Medicare payment cut looming over their heads.

TMA DEVELOPING PLANS TO HELP PHYSICIANS SURVIVE ADN THRIVE IN NEW ENVIRONMENT

If the new health reform law is really the biggest change in U.S. health care since the enactment of Medicare, what are you doing to prepare? Paying your TMA dues and staying active in TMA leadership are two important steps. We believe it will take a combination of advocacy, education, and outreach for practices to survive and thrive amidst all the chaos. We’ve started with a complete summary of the new law (PDF) and are beginning to work on all the new federal regulations it will take to implement the bill. Our Council on Legislation is developing strategies for the 2011 Texas Legislature so that Texans can decide what reform will look like in Texas. TMA President-Elect Sue Bailey, MD, who is determined to help Texas physicians take advantage of this change, will lead an education session on health system reform Friday afternoon at TexMed 2010. The next step is a “what it means to me” document for physicians in small practices, large groups, and academia. We will roll out a more complete statewide seminar series later this year. Many physicians are fielding questions from concerned and confused patients (a new survey found 55 percent of patients nationally are confused about the new law), so TMA is planning a return of our House Calls outreach events, and we are preparing patient education materials for you to use in your office. If you have additional ideas, please send them my way.

Monday, April 19, 2010

CONGRESS SLAPS ANOTHER BAND-AID ON MEDICARE PAYMENT FORMULA

This time they went two days past their deadline. Blood oozed around the edges of Medicare’s obviously unsustainable Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula, as Congress allowed the 21.3-percent payment cut to take effect for two days before passing yet another emergency bill to stanch the bleeding. This time the payment freeze will last until May 31. American Medical Association officials say any claims paid at the lower rate will be reprocessed without physicians having to resubmit the claims. This is the third time since December that Congress delayed the fee cut. “It is absolutely unacceptable for the United States Congress to inflict this kind of perpetual uncertainty on Medicare patients and their physicians,” said TMA President Bill Fleming, MD. “This is an all-too-real reason why Congress needs to quit dithering and get to work on a permanent new Medicare payment formula today.” AMA says it is working with “House and Senate leadership offices and with White House officials on a long-term solution."

TMA'S "STOP THE MEDICARE MELTDOWN" PETITION DRIVE GROWS

The number of signatures on TMA’s Stop the Medicare Meltdown petition drive doubled last week to almost 44,000 as more state medical associations and national and state specialty societies began promoting it to their members and the public. San Antonio surgeon Gerardo Carcamo, MD, set up a Stop the Meltdown page on Facebook. Please add your name to the petition and download TMA’s campaign materials to use in your office.

TEXPAC-ENDORSED CANDIDATE WINS SUPREME COURT NOMINATION

Endorsed by TEXPAC, Judge Debra Lehrmann of Fort Worth posted a convincing win in the April 13 runoff election to gain the Republican nomination for the Texas Supreme Court. TEXPAC distributed 200,000 slate cards to physician offices during the runoff campaign. I also want to congratulate Humble anesthesiologist and TMA activist Susan Curling, MD, who ran a tough but unsuccessful runoff campaign for the GOP nomination in House District 127. The spring election season isn’t over. TEXPAC endorsed former State Sen. David Sibley in the May 8 special election to return to his old District 22 seat. Sen. Kip Averitt (R-Waco) resigned for health reasons.

FORT WORTH TEAM SET TO CELEBRATE AS TEXMED RETURNS TO COWTOWN

The Fort Worth flavor at TexMed 2010 extends well beyond the host city’s ambience and the TMA Foundation’s Celebrating Lone Star Trailblazers benefit. The spotlight will shine on three Fort Worth residents April 30-May 1 as our annual meeting returns to that city for the first time since 1989: allergist Sue Bailey, MD, takes the oath of office as TMA’s 145th president; Doris Johnson takes the reins as the new TMA Alliance president; and pathologist Ladon Homer, MD — the former TMA president, Board of Trustees chair, and TEXPAC chair — receives the Distinguished Service Award. Registration is free for TMA members. The Twitter hashtag for the conference is #texmed2010. I hope to see you there.

FOUR EMR EXTENSION CENTERS WIN FEDERAL FUNDING

Just like Texas farmers and ranchers turn to their agricultural extension centers for expert advice, Texas physicians have a trusted source for answers to their questions about electronic medical records (EMRs), consistent with our mission statement. Four Texas regional extensions centers (RECs) received $35.4 million from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to help physicians implement and “meaningfully use” (PDF) EMRs. TMA has made sure physicians are involved in governing each Texas REC. At least half of the members of each REC board will be physicians. In addition, Dr. Bailey will appoint physicians to serve on a statewide advisory board that will oversee all REC activities.

HALF-PRICE SWITCH CME NOW AVAILABLE FOR TMA LEADERS

If you enjoyed Chip Heath’s presentation at 2010 TMA Winter Conference, there’s more where that came from. We’ve arranged continuing medical education (CME) credits, including ethics, and a Texas Medical Liability Trust premium discount on the Heath brothers’ new book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. As an investment in leadership training, we are offering the book and the CME credits at half price ($25) for physicians who serve on a TMA board, council, or committee.

Monday, April 12, 2010

“STOP THE MEDICARE MELTDOWN” PETITION TAKES OFF WITH NATIONWIDE PARTNERS

With 50 state medical associations and 14 national specialty societies promoting it, TMA’s online petition asking Congress for a permanent fix to Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula has gathered more than 22,500 signatures. TMA and county medical society leaders won some great media coverage with seven simultaneous news conferences launching the petition drive. Please add your name to the petition and encourage your friends, family, colleagues, staff, and patients to sign it as well.

SENATE SET TO VOTE TONIGHT ON ANOTHER MEDICARE BAND-AID

The U.S. Congress returns from its Easter recess today with some unfinished business on its plate. The Senate has scheduled a 5:30 pm (ET) vote to reverse the 21.2-percent cut in physicians’ Medicare payments that kicked in on April 1. This latest Band-Aid, if approved, would freeze rates only until May 1. Congress has only two days to act, as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS’) authority to hold claims expires on Wednesday. After that, CMS would begin paying physicians at the new, lower rate. Given the Senate’s byzantine rules and highly partisan atmosphere, approval tonight is by no means certain. The bill also includes extensions for unemployment insurance benefits and COBRA subsidies for the unemployed. TMA remains focused on winning enactment of a rational Medicare physician payment system that automatically keeps up with the cost of running a practice and is backed by a fair, stable funding formula.

TMA HOUSE OF DELEGATES AGENDA ITEMS NOW ONLINE

Reports and resolutions for the TMA House of Delegates to consider at TexMed 2010 in Fort Worth are posted on the TMA Web site. The house convenes at 8 am on Friday, April 30, followed immediately by reference committee meetings. The house regroups at 8:30 am on May 1 to consider reference committee reports. Elections are scheduled for 9 am. Later that morning, former TMA President Ladon Homer, MD, receives the 2010 Distinguished Service Award. Online registration for TexMed 2010 is still open. The Twitter hashtag for the conference is #texmed2010.

TMA House of Delegates Agenda Items Now Online

Reports and resolutions for the TMA House of Delegates to consider at TexMed 2010 in Fort Worth are posted on the TMA Web site. The house convenes at 8 am on Friday, April 30, followed immediately by reference committee meetings. The house regroups at 8:30 am on May 1 to consider reference committee reports. Elections are scheduled for 9 am. Later that morning, former TMA President Ladon Homer, MD, receives the 2010 Distinguished Service Award. Online registration for TexMed 2010 is still open. The Twitter hashtag for the conference is #texmed2010.

VOTE TOMORROW IN PARTY PRIMARY RUNOFF ELECTIONS

With a dismally small early voting turnout in the party primary runoff elections, every single vote carries a lot of weight. Election sites are open from 7 am to 7 pm tomorrow. If you haven’t voted yet, please go to the polls to support TEXPAC’s endorsed candidates (PDF)
Judge Debra Lehrmann, a Republican from Fort Worth, for Texas Supreme Court Place 3; this is a statewide race;
  • Susan Curling, MD (R-Kingwood), State House District 127;
  • Rep. Fred Brown (R-Bryan) State House District 14;
  • Mabrie Jackson (R-Plano) State House District 66;
  • Rep. Delwin Jones (R-Lubbock) State House District 83; and
  • Mark Griffin (R-Lubbock) State House District 84.

ALL FOUR TEXAS APPLICANTS RECEIVE HITREC FUNDING

Four Texas regional extensions centers (RECs) received $35.4 million from the Office of the National Coordinator to help physicians implement and “meaningfully use” (PDF) electronic health records (EHRs). Texas organizations receiving money are The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Dallas Fort Worth Hospital Council, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and Texas A&M Health Science Center. TMA has made sure physicians are involved in governing each Texas REC. At least half of the members of each REC board will be physicians. TMA also will appoint physicians to serve on a statewide board that will oversee REC activities. TMA is working with all four centers to help Texas physicians learn about and sign up for REC services.

DR. WILLIAMS HONORED BY A&M

Congratulations to TMA Immediate Past President Josie Williams, MD, who was inducted into the Texas A&M College of Science Academy of Distinguished Former Students. The academy recognizes former students “who have brought honor to their profession through outstanding leadership in mathematics, the sciences, and medicine.” Dr. Williams was honored for her contributions to organized medicine and patient safety. She earned her bachelor’s of science degree in zoology with honors from Texas A&M in 1971.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

IT'S "MEDICARE MELTDOWN MONDAY" ACROSS TEXAS TODAY

In seven nearly simultaneous news conferences around the state this morning, TMA and county medical society leaders will raise public awareness about the dire problem facing Medicare. The Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula — with its annual (and now monthly) threats of steep cuts in physicians’ Medicare payments — is threatening patients’ access to care, they will explain. Led by TMA President Bill Fleming, MD, in Houston and President-Elect Sue Bailey, MD, in Fort Worth, they will call on Texans to sign our Stop the Medicare Meltdown petition to Congress. They will point out that the success of the new health care reform law depends heavily on a “rational Medicare physician payment system that automatically keeps up with the cost of running a practice and is backed by a fair, stable funding formula.” Other TMA leaders participating include Trustees Austin King, MD, in Abilene and David Henkes, MD, in San Antonio, and former Trustee Bruce Malone, MD, in Austin. We also have events planned in Waco and Corpus Christi.

TMA'S STOP THE MEDICARE MELTDOWN PETITION DRIVE GOES NATIONWIDE

With the 21-percent cut in physicians’ Medicare payments kicking in as a bad April Fools’ joke, state medical societies across the country are joining our Stop the Medicare Meltdown petition drive. Twenty-nine state societies — from Washington state to Florida, from New Hampshire to Arizona — have either signed on to the campaign or are seriously considering it. The American College of Cardiology is the first national specialty society to join. I’m very excited about this grassroots effort that cuts across partisan politics and brings all U.S. physicians together in a constructive fight for their patients. Please sign the petition today and spread the word.

SUPPORT MEDICINE'S CANDIDATES IN PARTY PRIMARY RUNOFFS

Early voting for the April 13 Republican and Democratic primary runoff elections begins today and runs through Friday, April 9. We urge you to vote for TEXPAC’s endorsed candidates (PDF):
Judge Debra Lehrmann, a Republican from Fort Worth, for Texas Supreme Court Place 3; this is a statewide race;
  • Susan Curling, MD (R-Kingwood), State House District 127;
  • Rep. Fred Brown (R-Bryan), State House District 14;
  • Rep. Norma Chavez (D-El Paso), State House District 76;
  • Mabrie Jackson (R-Plano), State House District 66;
  • Rep. Delwin Jones (R-Lubbock), State House District 83; and
  • Mark Griffin (R-Lubbock), State House District 84.

CARING FOR PATIENTS IN A TIME OF CHANGE

There is still much confusion out there about TMA’s position on the new health reform law. “We cannot allow our political views … to get in the way of what medical care is all about: physicians caring for our patients,” Dr. Fleming wrote in the Houston Chronicle. “Patients and their doctors must work together to take advantage of this change. We cannot waste this opportunity to improve the access and care we provide to our patients. We also must keep a constant eye out for opportunities to improve the new law.” Please share this message with your colleagues.

CHECK OUT TEXAS PHYSICIANS IN HAITI PHOTO ESSAYS IN APRIL'S TEXAS MEDICINE

TMA has documented Texas physicians’ impressive relief effort in earthquake-torn Haiti in a beautiful but haunting series of photo essays in this month’s Texas Medicine. The stories are online, but for now you’ll need to open the magazine to see the excellent photographs shot by physician volunteers and the freelance photographer TMA sent to the island.

BOOK YOUR TEXMED 2010 HOTEL ROOM NOW

Tuesday, April 6 is the deadline to reserve your room in the Omni Fort Worth Hotel or Sheraton Fort Worth Hotel and Spa for TexMed 2010. I’m excited about our annual meeting’s return to Cowtown April 30-May 1 for the first time in 21 years. More than 100 free hours of continuing medical education will be available along with the meeting of the TMA House of Delegates, a great Expo Hall, and the annual TMA Foundation benefit. I hope to see you there.