AAFP Launches Disaster Assistance Fund for Physicians and Students
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the AAFP Foundation have announced a program designed to provide disaster relief to family physicians and family medicine residents and students living and working in the Gulf Coast who have been displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Newly installed AAFP President Larry Fields, M.D., of Ashland, Ky., announced the initiative at the AAFP Annual Scientific Assembly in San Francisco. Fields said that Academy members have been extremely generous in helping families affected by the hurricanes, and that “now we have some assistance our own people need.” Additional information, including a link to donate online, is available at https://www.aafp.org/x37610.xml.
Medical Community Calls on Congress to Fix Medicare Payment System
In a letter to U.S. senators and representatives, the AAFP and 122 national and state medical organizations have called for adequate Medicare payment to physicians. The letter tells federal lawmakers that failure to increase Medicare payments to physicians will undermine federal policy of making health care available to America’s senior citizens and rural residents. It urges Congress to act on legislation that would avert a 4.4 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians set to take effect Jan. 1, 2006. “If this cut is imposed, Medicare rates will fall 16 percent below the government’s conservative measure of inflation in medical practice costs,” the letter says. “If this cut occurs, the average physician payment rate will be less in 2006 than it was in 2001.” Even if Congress were to freeze payments at 2005 levels, physicians would, in effect, experience a pay cut because inflation is projected to increase practice costs by 2.7 percent next year, according to the letter. The AAFP has urged Academy members to contact their U.S. senators and representatives about Medicare payment. Members can get sample letters and contact information for their senators and representatives at the AAFP Legislative Action Center’s Web site (http://capitol.aafp.org/aafp/issues/alert/?alertid=8067916&type=CO).
Proposals Aim to Accelerate Physicians’ Use of EHR and E-prescribing
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the Inspector General have proposed new regulations that would help physicians adopt e-prescribing and electronic health records (EHR) systems. CMS announced a new regulatory proposal that would create exceptions to the “physician self-referral” law. Currently, physicians in Medicare are prohibited from referring Medicare patients for certain services to health care entities with which the physician has a financial relationship, unless an exception applies. Health care entities also are not allowed to bill Medicare for services that are provided as a result of a prohibited referral. The new proposals would allow hospitals and certain health care organizations to provide hardware, software, and related training services to physicians for e-prescribing and EHR, particularly when the support involves systems that can exchange information securely. In a parallel action, the Office of the Inspector General announced proposed safe harbors for arrangements involving the donation of technology for e-prescribing and EHR. Arrangements for the provision of items and services that meet the requirements of the safe harbors would be exempt from enforcement action under the federal anti-kickback statute. One proposal would establish the conditions under which hospitals and other entities can give physicians hardware, software, information technology, and training services for e-prescribing. The second proposal would establish the conditions under which such entities may donate to physicians EHR software and related training services. The proposed rules were published in the Oct. 5, 2005, edition of the Federal Register, and public comments are being accepted.
AAFP Delegates Request Restoration of Resident, Student Commission
The AAFP’s Congress of Delegates has asked the Academy’s Board of Directors to reestablish the Commission on Resident and Student Issues (CRSI). Delegates voted after in-depth debate on whether a resurrected CRSI or the AAFP’s new governance structure would better foster leadership opportunities for students and residents. The new structure establishes mandatory student and resident subcommittees under the Commission on Education, which has three students and three residents. In addition, several AAFP commissions include at least one student and one resident member. But supporters of CRSI said that eliminating the commission could silence an important voice in the Academy and contended that losing CRSI may close a path to leadership. They noted that governance changes that would reduce student and resident involvement could hinder the AAFP’s efforts to foster student interest in family medicine. In adopting the resolution, delegates asked the board to recreate the CRSI with “full and continuing support” from the Academy.
Physicians Are Sought to Care for Special Olympics Athletes
Family physicians are being recruited to become “caregivers of record” for Special Olympics athletes through a partnership between the AAFP and the Special Olympics. The initiative aims to enhance access to health care and provide opportunities for healthy physical activity among Special Olympics athletes and other people with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympic Healthy Athletes Provider Directory is an online resource that matches patients who have intellectual disabilities with health care professionals in their communities. The physician component, which allows family physicians to sign up to provide this comprehensive care, launched in October 2005. The groups plan to develop relevant continuing medical education courses for physicians and a curriculum for medical students to better prepare them to address the health needs of this patient population. Physicians may enroll in the directory at http://soi-prod5.specialolympics.org/healthyathletes/login.asp. Patients can access the directory beginning Jan. 1, 2006.
Medicare & You 2006 Handbook Contains Errors
The Medicare & You 2006 handbook being mailed to Medicare-eligible patients contains errors that could cost patients unnecessary expense. The handbook’s errors occur in the charts that compare the prescription drug plans available in each state. The table titled “If I Qualify for Extra Help, will My Full Premium be Covered?” answers “yes” for all plans. However, if the plan’s monthly premium exceeds the regional benchmark, the beneficiary would pay the difference, according to Diana Martinez-Fonts, assistant to the CMS director of Medicare outreach. CMS does not plan to send a corrected version of the chart to Medicare beneficiaries. Instead, they recommend that patients download a copy of the correct handbook from the CMS consumer Web site (http://www.medicare.gov). Patients also can call the organization offering the prescription drug plan and request correct information, or they can go to the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan finder, scheduled to be available on the consumer Web site on Oct. 19.
New Brochure Available to Help Patients Find Information and Support
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has released a new brochure to help patients who have been diagnosed with an illness learn more about their condition and treatment options. The brochure, “Next Steps After Your Diagnosis: Finding Information and Support,” includes questions for patients to ask their doctor about their condition, how it might be treated, and what they need to know before making treatment decisions. It is available online at http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/diaginfo.htm. Free single copies are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse (telephone, (800) 358–9295; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org).