Medicare Will Restore Payment Difference to Physicians by July
The Medicare payment reduction that occurred between January 1, 2006, and the February approval of the Deficit Reduction Act will be restored to physicians by July 1, 2006, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced. The CMS will adjust payment automatically and send physicians a check by this date. American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) President Larry Fields, M.D. (Ashland, Ky.), applauded CMS for agreeing to the retroactive restoration of payments but expressed concern for the future. “This does nothing to solve the underlying problem of a flawed Medicare payment formula,” Fields said. He later stated that Congress “needs to fulfill its obligation to fix this problem so that our patients have access to quality care.” For more information, visithttps://www.aafp.org/x41880.xml.
HHS Budget for 2007 Proposes Bioterrorism Spending, Grant Cuts
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released details of its fiscal year 2007 budget request, which proposes $698 billion in spending–an increase of $58 billion from 2006. Included in the budget are $4.4 billion for bioterrorism-related spending, $2.6 billion for pandemic planning, $188 million to fight human immunodeficiency virus, $181 million for the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to fund more than 300 health center sites in medically underserved communities, $169 million for health information technology initiatives, and $25 million for the Methamphetamine Treatment Initiative. The budget also includes a set of Medicare legislative proposals with net savings of $2.5 billion, and additional reductions in discretionary spending. Funding for the Social Services Block Grant program will be reduced by $500 million; the Community Services and the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant programs and the Urban Indian Health Program will be eliminated; and funding for rural health programs run by HRSA will be reduced by $133 million. For more information, visithttp://www.hhs.gov/budget/docbudget.htm.
AAFP Supports Health Objectives in State of the Union Address
Many of the health care objectives outlined by U.S. President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address on January 31 were in line with those of the AAFP. One of the major proposals in the address was for reform of medical liability, which AAFP policy has supported since 2001. AAFP President Larry Fields, M.D., said the door was now open for Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn) to bring a medical liability bill to Senate vote in 2006, as promised. Fields also supported President Bush’s call for electronic health records and access to health care for all, although he emphasized the need for allocation of funds. The AAFP would work with Congress, said Fields, to ensure that key principles of the Academy’s Health Care Coverage for All plan are included in any legislation. For more information, visithttps://www.aafp.org/x41767.xml.
Budget Reconciliation Bill May Cause Health Care Coverage Gaps
A mandate included in the budget reconciliation bill (S. 1932), which was passed by Congress in February (216–214), requires Medicaid beneficiaries to submit a birth certificate or passport as proof of U.S. citizenship to prevent fraudulent enrollment in the program by illegal immigrants. Because many U.S. citizens do not have these documents, the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities (CBPP) estimates that about 1.7 million adult beneficiaries born in the United States could lose or experience delays in their coverage, and between 1.4 and 2.9 million U.S.-born children also would be at risk. In addition, the bill changes federal Medicaid law to allow states to offer children reduced benefit packages, to charge premiums for Medicaid coverage, and to charge fees for prescription drugs and some medical services. Children are expected to compose 60 percent of those losing Medicaid coverage because of premium charges and one third of those affected by higher cost-sharing for prescription medications. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urged Congress not to pass the bill, and says pediatricians now need to persuade state governments not to adopt the new options. The AAP statement on the bill is available online athttp://www.aap.org/advocacy/washing/medicaid–2–1–06.htm. The full CBPP report is available athttp://www.cbpp.org/1–26–06health.htm.
HHS and Institut Pasteur Collaborate for Pandemic Preparedness
The HHS and the Institut Pasteur (IP), a nonprofit foundation dedicated to the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, are collaborating to improve global preparedness for and response to pandemic disease. The joint HHS-IP working group will oversee projects aimed at strengthening global ability to detect influenza viruses that may trigger a human pandemic. Projects will include building capacities for surveillance and control of infectious disease in countries at risk for the spread of H5N1-strain avian influenza, enabling rapid response to disease threats through the exchange of technical expertise, and communicating accurate public information on infectious disease. The initial focus of the working group will be on southeast Asia, where most cases of H5N1 influenza have been reported. Additional activities may include conferences, training exercises, and scientific exchange. For more information about the collaboration, visithttp://www.hhs.gov/news.
Initiative to Improve and Enhance USPHS Commissioned Corps
The HHS has launched an initiative to transform the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps, which provides international disaster relief as well as day-to-day health care for underserved persons in the United States. The goals of the transformation are to increase the number of officers by 10 percent (to a total of 6,600 members), to improve response operations and deployment processes, to improve the approach to assigning officers, and to strengthen personal incentive programs. The changes should enable the Corps to deal with public health issues with more speed and efficiency. For more information, visit the USPHS Commissioned Corps Web site athttp://www.usphs.gov.
Board of Physician Specialists Offers Disaster Medicine Certification
The American Board of Physician Specialists (ABPS) is for the first time offering board certification in disaster medicine. The certification is open to physicians of various specialties and was formulated by physicians who have first-hand experience in disaster response. Recent disasters have exposed a shortage of appropriately trained personnel, the ABPS stated. By organizing and developing a certification in disaster medicine, the board hopes to enable a comprehensive response to disaster and provide a wide knowledge base for preparedness planning organizations. The new board will be managed by 17 physicians representing diverse specialties. Applications will be available on May 1, 2006, and the first examination will be administered in the fall. For more information, see the ABPS Web site athttp://www.abpsga.org.
Associations Call for Better Management of Blood Glucose in Hospitals
Three major medical associations—the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), the American College of Endocrinology (ACE), and the American Diabetes Association (ADA)—came together to develop strategies for hospital management of adults with high blood glucose. At a January conference the associations reviewed data, analyzed inpatient programs and new technologies, and made recommendations for improving patient care. The group then released a position statement outlining its recommendations, which include identifying elevated blood glucose in all hospitalized patients, establishing a team approach to diabetes management, and creating educational programs for all hospital personal who care for persons with diabetes. To view the full statement, visithttp://www.aace.com.