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Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(9):1639-1640

Physicians May See Decrease in Medicare Payments in 2006

Reimbursement for Medicare services may decrease by as much as 4.3 percent next year because of spending growth, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Spending increased about 15 percent from 2003 to 2004, mainly for the following: office visits; minor procedures, including drug administration and physical therapy; imaging; laboratory and other tests; and medications given in physicians’ offices, according to CMS in a letter to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. Office visit costs have increased because of the trend toward longer and more intensive visits, CMS said. Internal medicine visits accounted for 3.8 percent of the increased spending for office visits, while visits to family physicians contributed 3.2 percent. Cardiovascular disease–related costs contributed 1.4 percent, and visits for orthopedic surgery contributed 0.7 percent. The CMS letter is available online at

AAFP Backs Effort to Give FDA Regulatory Control of Tobacco Products

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recently joined 33 other organizations in supporting a Congressional bill that would authorize the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco manufacturing, marketing, and sales. The bill (H.R. 1376) would allow the FDA to require manufacturers to print more and larger health warnings on tobacco products; disclose products’ content and changes to the content, such as reductions of harmful chemicals; and restrict advertising and promotion of tobacco products and halt illegal sales to children and adolescents. The full text of H.R. 1376 is available online at

HHS Begins Initiative to Reduce Obesity in Blacks

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has joined three national organizations to improve efforts to reduce obesity in blacks. The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, the National Urban League, and the National Council of Negro Women received $1.2 million from HHS to fund initiatives aimed at prevention, education, and public awareness of the impact of obesity and obesity-related conditions. Projects will include improving health habits in college students, educating women about aging and how to improve their overall health, testing an urban health and fitness campaign, and developing community action plans.

ChiT Web Site Offers Mentoring for Electronic Health Records

Physicians who are considering switching to an electronic health record (EHR) system can get help from others who have implemented similar systems. The AAFP’s Center for Health Information Technology (ChiT) recently added a feature to its Web site that connects physicians in similar practices and offers EHR product reviews. Go to and enter your AAFP password to search for the names and e-mail addresses of physicians in your area who are willing to answer EHR-related questions.

National Initiative Underway to Promote Healthy Swimming

Health experts and nongovernmental leaders met recently to begin planning the first national initiative to reduce and prevent water illnesses associated with public swimming pools, lakes, and other water sources. The initiative is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists in conjunction with state, local, and nonprofit organizations. Participants plan to establish a national dialogue on the risks of recreational swimming and solutions to ensure healthy swimming. Recommendations for a national strategic plan, which will include improved training for public health officials and pool staff, will be published in a CDC report this summer.

Survey: HIPAA Compliance Increasing, but Challenges Remain

The number of hospitals and health systems achieving full compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rule nearly doubled in the past year, but more education may be necessary, according to a survey by the American Health Information Management Association. Although compliance is increasing—the number of respondents who are fully compliant rose from 23 to 40 percent—participants said the most troublesome aspect of the privacy rule was accounting for the release of information. More than 60 percent of survey respondents said the federal government should modify this provision. A copy of the full report is available online at

SAMHSA Offers $3.1 Million for Suicide-Prevention Services

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is offering more than $3 million to support suicide-prevention efforts in high school and college students. About 20 grants totaling $1.3 million will fund services for college students with mental and behavioral problems. Awards are available for up to $75,000 per year for up to three years, with an equivalent match from the application organization. Eight cooperative agreements totaling approximately $1.8 million will evaluate practices to assess adolescents at risk for suicide and refer them to community-based mental health services. The average award will be $250,000 per year for up to two years. More information is available online at

HHS to Award $63 Million for Care to Uninsured Patients

More than 100 health centers will receive $63 million in grants from HHS to fund primary health care services for poor and uninsured persons. HHS estimates that the grants will help an estimated 632,000 persons in 39 states, Washington, D.C., and Micronesia. Seventeen of the 105 recipients will receive their awards this month, and the additional grants will be awarded in December.

Program Helps Patients with Out-of-Pocket Medical Expenses

Insured patients with certain life-threatening or debilitating diseases may be eligible for financial assistance to help offset out-of-pocket treatment expenses. The nonprofit Patient Advocate Foundation recently began the Copay Relief program for patients with macular degeneration and breast, lung, and prostate cancers. Patients with secondary conditions associated with cancer treatment also are eligible for assistance, and the program will expand to cover patients with an additional 23 diagnoses as funding is available. The program has been reviewed and approved by the HHS Office of Inspector General. More information about the program is available online at

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Copyright © 2005 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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