News in Brief: Week of Jan. 9-13

January 11, 2012 05:10 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

HHS Rule on Electronic Funds Transfers Benefits Physicians

HHS recently released a new interim rule that standardizes the format and content of the information sent by health plans to banks when paying health care claims electronically.

According to a Jan. 5 news release( about the rule -- called the Adoption of Standards for Health Care Electronic Funds Transfers and Remittance Advice -- the new standards are intended to save physicians administrative hassles. The rule will help physicians more easily match bills submitted to health plans with electronic payments made by those plans by requiring the use of matching tracking numbers for health plan remittance advice statements and corresponding electronic funds transfer payments.

According to a CMS fact sheet(, health plans, not physicians, will bear most of the cost of implementation of the new standards. HHS said the new standards -- together with previously published regulations that allow physicians to use electronic systems to determine a patient's eligibility for health coverage and check on a claim's status -- are expected to save the health care industry more than $16 billion during the next 10 years.

The new standards are required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and fall under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. They took effect on Jan. 1; all entities must be fully compliant by Jan. 1, 2014.

The Commonwealth Fund Opens Registration for Free ACO Webinar

Register now( for a free 90-minute webinar on accountable care organizations (ACOs) offered by The Commonwealth Fund at 2 p.m. EST, on Jan. 19.

According to information( on The Commonwealth Fund website, the webinar, titled "ACO Formation: Leading the Transition to New Models of Care," will focus on a series of forthcoming case studies of ACOs from The Commonwealth Fund. Lead case study author Elliott Fisher, M.D., M.P.H., director of health policy implementation at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, will head the presenting panel.

Representatives from two existing ACO sites will discuss the role of executive and physician leadership in the transition to new models of care.

Archived materials( will be available on The Commonwealth Fund website after the webinar.

U.S. Health Care Spending Remains at Historically Low Rates

Health care spending in the United States grew at a historically low rate in 2010, which likely was a result of a struggling economy that has made it more difficult for some people to access health care services. That's according to the latest report from the National Health Expenditures Accounts( (NEHA), which produce the official estimates of total health care spending in the United States.

The report found that health care spending grew by only 3.9 percent in 2010, reaching $2.6 trillion, or $8,402 per person. In 2009, the growth in health care expenditures was 3.8 percent, which is the lowest rate of growth ever recorded by the NHEA. In addition, the report found that health care spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy remained unchanged at 17.9 percent in 2010.

The report also found that

  • spending on physician and clinical services grew by 2.5 percent in 2010, a decrease from 3.3 percent in 2009;
  • retail prescription drug spending grew by only 1.2 percent in 2010 to $259.1 billion, the slowest rate of growth for prescription drug spending ever recorded by the NHEA;
  • growth in total health insurance premiums fell slightly in 2010, declining from 2.6 percent in 2009 to 2.4 percent in 2010; and
  • consumer out-of-pocket spending increased 1.8 percent in 2010, up from 0.2 percent growth in 2009.

Learn More, Earn More: 2012 Physician Quality Reporting System

CMS has updated and reposted( a bevy of educational products and information related to the 2012 Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS).

The CMS website spotlights a wide variety of documents, tables, files and manuals -- all designed to help physicians successfully participate in the 2012 PQRS program and earn incentive payments. Links to pertinent information are highlighted in blue on the left side of the page .

Complete details about the 2012 PQRS program are included in the final 2012 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule(