News in Brief: Week of Dec. 3-7

December 05, 2012 05:15 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

[News in Brief]

Organizations Partner to Help Physicians Purchase EHRs

The Delta Regional Authority and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) have launched an initiative aimed at helping physicians in underserved communities in eight states purchase an electronic health record (EHR) system.

A fact sheet( on the Rural Health IT Loan Fund Program spells out the specifics, including the counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi , Missouri and Tennessee that are included in the program parameters.

Physician practices in the identified counties must meet specific requirements, including Internet connectivity and use of an electronic billing system, to qualify for the program. Physicians accepted into program will qualify for interest-free loans toward the purchase and implementation of EHR and health information technology training courses.

Contact Bonnie Aguda, senior manager of grants and sponsored programs at the AHIMA Foundation by e-mail for more information about the program.

CMS Updates Stats on EHR Incentive Programs

CMS has posted a document( listing updated payout statistics for its Medicare and Medicaid EHR (electronic health record) Incentive Programs.

According to CMS, a total of $8.4 billion has been paid to participating hospitals and physicians and other eligible professionals since the programs were enacted.

CMS notes that nearly 323,000 physicians and other eligible professionals are registered for the meaningful use program, as are more than 4,000 hospitals. Furthermore, nearly 80,000 physicians have received bonuses through the Medicare version of the program, and more than 45,000 physicians have received extra payment through the Medicaid EHR program.

Flu Season Started Early, CDC Says 'Get Vaccinated.'

According to a Dec. 3 CDC report(, influenza season has started. Significant increases in U.S. flu activity in the last two weeks of November show that influenza-like-illness (ILI) activity levels in parts of the country already are higher than all of last season. Nationally, the United States reached the baseline level for ILI the week ending November 24, and five states already are reporting the highest level of activity possible.

"Increasing flu activity should be a wake-up call," said Melinda Wharton, M.D., acting director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "For anyone who has put off vaccination, it's time to get your flu vaccine now."

Take the AAFP Member Census

The AAFP needs solid data to provide effective support to its members. With that in mind, the Academy is asking that all members who have not already done so take the Member Census.

Information gleaned from the 12-question survey will be used to focus the Academy's advocacy efforts, ensure that products and services are both relevant and timely, and better educate legislators and other decision makers on issues affecting family medicine.

To access the online survey, members will need to log in to the members-only area of the AAFP website.

HHS Credits Health Care Law With Billions in Savings for Medicare Beneficiaries

As the final week of Medicare open enrollment comes to a close, HHS has released data touting the cost-saving effects of the health care law on Medicare prescription drug costs.

According to HHS(, nearly 6 million Medicare beneficiaries have saved $5.1 billion on prescription drug costs during the past two years as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act provides assistance to Medicare beneficiaries who fall into the Medicare prescription coverage gap. During the first 10 months in 2010, nearly 2.8 million beneficiaries in the coverage gap saved an average of $677, said HHS.

In addition, during the first 10 months of 2012, about 23.4 million people with original Medicare received one or more preventive services at no cost to them, including 2.5 million who accessed the annual wellness visit provided as part of the Affordable Care Act, HHS said.