News in Brief: Week of March 17-21

March 19, 2014 05:00 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

[News in Brief]

Enrollment Deadline Approaches for Insurance Marketplaces

Family physicians should take note when consulting with patients that March 31 is the final day for open enrollment in the state insurance marketplaces. After the deadline passes, most individuals will not be able to sign up for insurance until November 2014.

Physicians are strongly encouraged to advise their patients to sign up for coverage and explore their options. Insurance companies cannot deny coverage to anyone with pre-existing health conditions. Individuals without insurance who do not enroll by March 31 face a potential fine. There are four categories of coverage, which differ in terms of the number of services offered, annual deductible and monthly premium. People with low incomes may qualify for premium subsidies or Medicaid.

All health plans are required to offer at least 10 essential benefits, including emergency services, hospitalization, newborn care, pediatric care and prescription drug coverage. Some states are managing their own marketplaces, while others are relying upon the federal government's official site(

For more information about how to discuss the issue with your patients, the AAFP has information on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). In addition, has more details about the implications of the ACA(, as well as information about the insurance marketplaces.

Rural Mental Health and Substance Abuse Toolkit Launched

The Rural Assistance Center (RAC), the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center and the NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis have launched the new Rural Mental Health and Substance Abuse Toolkit( The toolkit is designed to help rural communities and organizations develop and implement programs that meet the targeted mental health needs of communities based on proven approaches and strategies, according to a RAC news release( The toolkit is available for free on the RAC website.

Mental health and substance abuse issues facing rural communities are often complex and require comprehensive approaches and proven strategies to coordinate and focus available resources for success, said Walt Gregg, M.A., M.P.H., senior research fellow at the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center.

The Rural Mental Health and Substance Abuse Toolkit contains eight modules with information and links to resources, websites, publications and tools. The toolkit includes

  • an overview of mental health issues in rural areas,
  • program model examples, and
  • guidance on implementation and evaluation methods.

Volunteer for ICD-10 Testing July 21-25

CMS recently announced new dates for physicians to participate in end-to-end testing of their software systems and workflow process in preparation for the nation's transition to the ICD-10-CM code sets for outpatient diagnostic coding set for Oct. 1.

A limited number of volunteer practices will be chosen to participate in the testing week scheduled for July 21-25. Interested physicians must submit a completed registration form to their Medicare administrative contractor by March 24. Additional information on how to participate( is available from CMS.

In February, the AAFP raised concerns about ICD-10 readiness in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and asked her to require CMS to increase testing opportunities before the Oct. 1 launch date. Shortly after, CMS announced it was adding a second week of acknowledgement testing in May and then again in July.

Learn More About EHR Hardship Exemptions, Penalties

Heads up to family physicians who will be pressed to implement electronic health record (EHR) technology certified to the 2014 edition certification criteria in time to successfully demonstrate meaningful use for the 2014 reporting year for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program,( CMS recently updated information about the 2014 hardship exemptions.

According to CMS, hardship exceptions will be granted if a physician demonstrates that specific circumstances pose a significant barrier to his or her ability to achieve meaningful use. The 2014 certified EHR technology hardship exception tip sheet(, last updated on March 10, should be of particular interest to family physicians. Specifically, CMS notes that an EHR vendor unable to update software for meaningful use requirements constitutes an acceptable reason for an exception.

A second CMS tip sheet( gives physicians an overview of meaningful use penalty assessments through 2020.