News in Brief: Week of June 20-24

June 22, 2011 05:40 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

Texas Legislature Slashes Funds for Family Medicine Residency Programs

The Texas legislature has passed a budget that will strip nearly 74 percent of state funding from the state's 29 family medicine residency programs, a move that could cause some of the programs to close, according to the Texas AFP(www.tafp.org).

For 2010 and 2011, the legislature appropriated $21.2 million for family medicine residency programs. But the recently-passed budget slashes that amount to $5.6 million. The legislature also eliminated two other line items supporting residency training, resulting in an additional cut of $5.59 million.

In the meantime, the state budget also eliminated funding for the Statewide Primary Care Preceptorship Program and cut funding for the state's Physician Education Loan Repayment program by 76 percent. Altogether, Texas has reduced its investment in developing its primary care physician workforce from almost $51 million biannually to $11.2 million, a cut of 78 percent, according to Jonathan Nelson, communications director for the Texas AFP.

FPs Get Help With Prevention Message via U.S. Strategy

The Obama administration's recently released National Prevention Strategy(www.healthcare.gov) sounds like a primer for family medicine. It outlines goals for public and private partners to help Americans achieve better health through prevention.

Presented by U.S. Surgeon General and family physician Regina Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A., the comprehensive plan was called for by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and aims to increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life.

According to the strategy document, all sectors of society should help achieve four broad objectives:

  • building healthy and safe community environments,
  • expanding quality preventive services in both clinical and community settings,
  • empowering people to make healthy choices, and
  • eliminating health disparities.

The strategy has seven priority areas: tobacco-free living, preventing drug abuse and excessive alcohol use, healthy eating, active living, injury and violence-free living, reproductive and sexual health, and mental and emotional well-being.

Obama Administration Launches PCMH Initiative for Medicare Patients

The Obama administration has launched a new initiative that will pay as many as 50 federally qualified health centers, or FQHCs, $42 million during the next three years to test the effectiveness of the patient-centered medical home in improving the quality of care, promoting better health and reducing costs for Medicare patients.

The Federally Qualified Health Center Advanced Primary Care Practice Demonstration project will enroll FQHCs to provide care for up to 195,000 Medicare patients via the medical home model, according to an HHS press release(www.hhs.gov). Participating FQHCs are expected to achieve Level 3 recognition status from the National Committee on Quality Assurance, or NCQA.

The initiative, which will be operated jointly by CMS and the Health Resources and Services Administration, will pay participating FQHCs a monthly care management fee for each eligible Medicare beneficiary receiving primary care services. In exchange, the FQHCs will agree to adopt care coordination practices recognized by the NCQA.

MedPAC Report Assails Flaws in Medicare's Payment System

In its June report to Congress(www.medpac.gov), the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, or MedPAC, describes Medicare's payment system for physicians and other health professionals as "flawed in many ways."

The system continues to call for unrealistically steep fee cuts while inherently rewarding volume over quality and efficiency, notes MedPAC. The payment system also favors procedural services over primary care, which has serious implications for the nation's future primary care workforce.

"The commission is concerned about these issues, particularly because physicians and other health care professionals are often the most important link between beneficiaries and the health care delivery system," the report says.

It points out the sustainable growth rate, or SGR, formula has repeatedly called for steep reductions in Medicare payment rates during the past several years -- reductions that have only been averted by congressional action. This frequent need to override increasingly steeper cuts, however, is undermining confidence in the Medicare program and jeopardizing future access to care by beneficiaries, according to the report.

New Medical Schools Get Accreditation Upgrade

Three new medical schools in Florida and Texas have received provisional accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education(www.lcme.org), or LCME.

The schools are the University of Central Florida College of Medicine in Orlando, the Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine in Miami and the Texas Tech University of Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso.

Provisional accreditation is the fourth step in a five-step process for full accreditation. It means that the schools have met a number of requirements, including that certain portions of their programs leading to the doctorate of medicine degree have met LCME standards.

The medical schools welcomed their first classes in fall 2009.

National Academies Making All Content Free to Download

The National Academies Press, or NAP, is making all of the more than 4,000 books in its catalog available for free downloading. The policy also will apply to future reports from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

The NAP began offering some free content online in 1994. The organization estimated that making all of its content free will increase dissemination of its reports from about 700,000 downloads per year to more than 3 million by 2013.

"Our business model has evolved so that it is now financially viable to put this content out to the entire world for free," executive director Barbara Kline Pope said in a June 2 news release(www8.nationalacademies.org). "This is a wonderful opportunity to make a positive impact by more effectively sharing our knowledge and analyses."

Printed books will continue to be available for purchase through the NAP website(www.nap.edu). Free PDFs are available exclusively from the NAP's website and remain subject to copyright laws. A frequently-asked-questions document(www.nap.edu) has more information about the free downloads.

National Library of Medicine Launches Online Services for Medical Information

The National Library of Medicine, a component of the NIH, has formally launched MedlinePlus Connect(www.nlm.nih.gov), a free service that allows health organizations and health information technology providers to link patient portals and electronic health records, or EHRs, to MedlinePlus.gov(www.nlm.nih.gov), according to an HHS press release(www.hhs.gov).

MedlinePlus.gov brings together information from the NIH, other federal agencies and reputable health information professionals and covers a wide range of health conditions and wellness issues. It includes numerous resources to inform patients about their health, according to HHS.

Physicians and patients using portals or EHRs that have implemented MedlinePlus Connect can access health information on MedlinePlus that is directly related to diagnoses, medications and lab tests. The NIH has also provided technical documentation(www.nlm.nih.gov) to help users get started.


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