AAFP, ACP, AOA Urge Congress to Stop Medicare Payment Cuts
Members from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American College of Physicians (ACP), and the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), on behalf of the 250,000 physicians they represent, visited congressional members to ask them to stop cuts to Medicare payments to physicians. According to AAFP President Larry Fields, M.D., Ashland, Ky., the payment cut would be 4.4 percent in 2006 and 26 percent by 2010 compared with the 2005 level. The Senate budget reconciliation bill, passed Nov. 4, 2005, called for a 1 percent increase in Medicare physician payments in 2006. The House budget bill did not request a change to the 4.4 percent pay cut planned to take effect January 1, 2006. Leaders of the three organizations also requested replacing the sustainable growth rate portion of the Medicare fee formula with a factor related to the cost of providing medical care.
HHS Awards Emergency Health Care Aid to Louisiana Katrina Victims
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Mike Leavitt announced an agreement that will allow victims of hurricane Katrina in Louisiana to receive the state's Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for their health care needs. The agreement reached between federal officials and Gov. Kathleen Blanco will allow the state to access uncompensated care funds to help pay physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care providers who provided emergency medical care to persons displaced by the storm. This fund will include coverage for necessary services, prescriptions, and medical equipment for individuals such as childless adults who are not normally eligible for Medicaid The state also will grant up to five months of temporary enrollment to evacuees who are children younger than 19 years and their parents, individuals with disabilities, pregnant women, low-income Medicare beneficiaries, and persons who need long-term care and meet certain income requirements. Persons approved for temporary enrollment in Medicaid or SCHIP will not be charged out-of-pocket costs during the temporary enrollment and will receive the standard Louisiana Medicaid benefit package. More information about programs for Katrina relief is available online at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/katrina.
HHS Grants Contracts for Nationwide Health Information Network
The HHS has awarded contracts totaling $18.6 million to four groups of health care and health information technology organizations for the development of prototypes for a Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN). The contracts form the foundation of an interoperable, standards-based network for the secure exchange of electronic health records that can follow patients throughout their lives. The four groups are led by Accenture, Computer Science Corporation (CSC), International Business Machines (IBM), and Northrop Grumman, and each will form a partnership between technology developers and health care providers in three local health care markets. Each group will design and implement a prototype that will test patient identification and information locator services; test user authentication, access control, and other security protections and specialized network functions; and test the feasibility of large-scale deployment. More information on the NHIN can be accessed online at http://www.hhs.gov/healthit.
FDA Introduces Electronic Drug Labels to Improve Patient Safety
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now requiring drug manufacturers to submit prescription drug label information to the FDA in a new electronic format that will allow easier access to product information in the FDA-approved package inserts for all approved medications in the United States. These new product labels will be listed on “Daily Med,” an online health information clearinghouse that will provide free, up-to-date medication information to consumers, health care providers, and health care information providers. This information is accessible through the National Library of Medicine at http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov, and also will be available eventually through firstname.lastname@example.org. Physicians will be able to quickly search and access specific information before prescribing a treatment, which should decrease prescribing errors and improve decision making. Updated product labels will be available on the site within one business day of an approval action by the FDA or submission to FDA of a product label change that does not require previous approval. Product labels for most approved prescription medications will be posted on Daily Med within one year. Eventually, Daily Med will include labels for biologics (such as vaccines), veterinary drugs, medical devices, and some food products.
HHS Launches U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative
U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., along with a number of agencies within the HHS has launched the U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative. The initiative will promote the importance of patients learning their family health history to help predict which disorders they may be at an increased risk of and to enable them to take preventive measures, if necessary. The Surgeon General has created a Web-based tool called “My Family's Health Portrait,” which helps users organize family history information. Users also can print out a copy of their family history information to give to their family physician and can save it on their personal computers to share with other family members. The tool can be accessed online at http://familyhistory.hhs.gov.
AAFP Asks AHIP to Adopt Single Standard for Personal Health Records
The AAFP, along with seven other medical specialty organizations, has asked America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) to adopt a single standard for personal health records. The letter to the AHIP stated that using a single standard for personal health records would allow the data to be read by people and computers, allowing data from a patient's personal health records to be moved from their health plan to the computer in their physician's office and from portable storage devices to any computer system. The organizations stressed that if a single standard is not adopted for personal health records, the data may have to be reentered by hand in the physician's office, possibly allowing new errors and confusion to be introduced to the records. The organizations joining the AAFP in this appeal to the AHIP are: the American Academy of Dermatology Association; the American Academy of Neurology; the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists; the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons; the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons; the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; and the AOA.
Congressional Agenda for 2006 to Include Medical Liability
The AAFP Strike Force on Medical Liability recently announced the following recommendations: eliminating contingency fees in medical liability cases; backing constituent chapters that advocate liability reforms; supporting legislation that limits noneconomic damages to no more than $500,000; and support of the Fair and Reliable Medical Justice Act, S. 1337, which would finance studies of alternative judicial and extrajudicial networks.
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