AAFP Encourages Physicians to Urge Congress to Freeze Medicare Payment Rate
The 2002 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule, issued November 1, 2001, describes the rules and rates of payments to physicians for providing services to Medicare beneficiaries. The rule contains an updated conversion factor for 2002 of $36.19, which is 5.4 percent lower than the current conversion factor. Two reasons for this decrease are: (1) the volume of services reimbursed under the Resource-Based Relative Value Scale (RBRVS) has increased, and (2) the formula for determining the conversion factor for the fee schedule is partially related to the gross domestic product (GDP). Because of substantial slowing of the economy this year (third quarter economic index was −0.4 percent), the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule conversion factor will be adjusted downward for next year. Unless Congress takes immediate action to override this final rule, physicians' Medicare payments will be reduced by as much as 5.4 percent. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) is gathering support on Capitol Hill for congressional preemption of this rule. The AAFP urges physicians to call or write (e-mail or fax preferred) their members of Congress to prompt immediate congressional action on this issue, especially if their member is on a principal committee (Energy and Commerce or Ways and Means in the House; Finance in the Senate). A sample letter can be found on the “Speak Out” section of the Academy Web site at:http://capitol.aafp.org/aafp/issues/alert/?alertid=60124. The appeal asks Congress to freeze Medicare payments and revise the flawed formula that ties Medicare payments to the economy using the GDP. AAFP members are encouraged to check the Web site frequently for updates on this fast-moving issue.
$1.5 Billion Requested to Help HHS Combat National Bioterrorism
According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, President Bush's $20 billion emergency relief budget request includes $1.5 billion for HHS to further strengthen the ability of the United States to respond to potential bioterrorism attacks. The additional funds would support efforts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), other HHS agencies, and state and local offices. Key elements include: (1) expanding the national pharmaceutical stockpile, including enough antibiotics to protect as many as 12 million persons from potential anthrax exposure; (2) expanding the supply of smallpox vaccines from the current 15 million doses to enough to protect the entire nation's population; (3) speeding the development of new bioterrorism tools such as bioterrorism vaccines, drug therapies, and diagnostic tests; (4) increasing state and local readiness, especially at hospitals and health facilities; (5) expanding the response capabilities of the HHS to bioterrorism incidents; and (6) improving food safety through more inspections of imported food products and investment in new technology and scientific equipment for the FDA to detect select agents. “We're currently responding quickly and effectively to the biologic events in our country, but this comprehensive package will substantially strengthen our capabilities,” said Secretary Thompson. “In particular, the package helps build the response capabilities of state and local government as well as bolster our pharmaceutical stockpile.” The $1.5 billion emergency request is in addition to the HHS fiscal year 2002 budget request of $345 million for bioterrorism preparedness. Additional information is available on the Web by visitinghttp://www.hhs.gov and clicking on Biological Incidents.
Consensus Statement Released on Family Physicians' Role in Pain Management
The AAFP, in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and 17 other physician, nursing, pain management research, and patient advocacy groups, recently endorsed a joint consensus statement that expresses a commitment to preventing drug abuse and ensuring that effective pain management medicines remain available to patients who have a legitimate need for them. The statement affirms that “preventing drug abuse is an important societal goal, but there is a consensus, by law enforcement agencies, health care practitioners, and patient advocates alike, that it should not hinder patients' ability to receive the care they need and deserve.” The AAFP submitted testimony to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee about the usefulness of pain medicines and the role of family physicians in pain management. The testimony, which was in response to the growing illicit use of pain medications (especially the time-release painkiller OxyContin), detailed the AAFP's actions to educate physician members about the potential for diversion and abuse of OxyContin. These actions include: articles in member publications, advice on protecting the authenticity of physician prescriptions, and identifying behavior suggestive of a person attempting to obtain multiple prescriptions through “doctor shopping.” To view the joint statement online, visithttp://www.lastacts.org/briefingoct01. The AAFP's testimony can be viewed online athttps://www.aafp.org/gov/fed/20011023.html.
Robert Graham Policy Center Relocates Offices
The Robert Graham Center: Policy Studies in Family Practice and Primary Care opened the doors to its new location November 5, 2001. The new address for the policy center is 1350 Connecticut Ave., Suite 950, Washington, D.C. 20036. The policy center's contact numbers will remain the same: telephone: 202–986–5708; fax: 202–986–7034. The policy center was launched in June of 1999 with the mission of bringing a family practice and primary care perspective to health policy deliberations in Washington, D.C. For more information on the Robert Graham Policy Center, visit its Web site athttps://www.graham-center.org.