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Doctors get another chance to avoid Medicare e-prescribing penalty
Doctors who were unable to meet Medicare electronic prescribing requirements will have a second chance to claim a hardship exemption and prevent the 2013 e-prescribing penalty from reducing their Medicare pay. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will allow physicians and other eligible health professionals an additional window of time in which to file hardship exemptions, indicating to the agency that a 1.5% penalty should not be applied to all Medicare rates next year, officials said. Any physician who did not request an exemption by the original due date, June 30, now can file a hardship application by Jan. 31, 2013. The American Medical Association had pushed for additional chances for physicians to avoid the penalty adjustment when circumstances out of their control prevented them from e-prescribing. “The AMA has consistently advocated for more flexibility under the Medicare e-prescribing exemption categories, and we are pleased that CMS is allowing physicians w [Read more]
Med school enrollment up but only partial solution to doctor shortage, educators say
Medical schools around the country continued to see enrollment grow in 2012. But educators warn that efforts to produce more physicians will mean little without more federal funding for graduate medical education. Schools have worked to increase the pipeline of physicians in recent years by opening more than a dozen new allopathic and osteopathic medical schools and expanding existing schools, said Darrell G. Kirch, MD, president and CEO of the Assn. of American Medical Colleges. Now Congress needs to increase federal funding for GME, he said. Medicare funding for GME has been capped since the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. “The medical schools have done their part,” Dr. Kirch said. “But unless Congress acts soon, there won’t be enough training positions for all of these doctors who graduate to go out and practice in our communities. We can’t ignore this problem.” Physician shortages are projected to reach 90,000 by 2020, according to the AAMC Center for Workforce St [Read more]
Recruiters say why it’s getting tougher to hire primary care doctors
A greater number of older patients has increased demand for primary care doctors while an aging physician population has dampened the supply. The situation, amplified by a growing emphasis on primary care services, is making primary care physician jobs more difficult to fill, according to physician recruiters. “We’re seeing a shift back to the importance of primary care, but there are not enough of them,” said Shelley Tudor, a board member of the Assn. of Staff Physician Recruiters. “Health systems have to take a different approach to recruiting.” Primary care physician positions took 151 days to fill in 2011, up from 125 in 2010 and 115 in 2009, according to the annual benchmarking report the Assn. of Staff Physician Recruiters released Oct. 10. About 150 in-house recruiters with hospitals, health systems and large medical groups participate each year. These staffers usually work to attract physicians for employed positions, although they sometimes have independent pos [Read more]
Oddsmakers predict sequestration and SGR delay
White House and congressional officials in Washington have acknowledged that the large federal budget cuts and tax increases set for early 2013 probably won’t happen. The fiscal cliff, which includes significant cuts to Medicare and other federal health programs, could be avoided through temporary fixes after the presidential election on Nov. 6. Lawmakers appear to be leaning toward punting these issues to the next Congress, as a lame-duck session is unlikely to draft and pass comprehensive legislation to address the underlying fiscal problems permanently. The subject of the roughly $1 trillion in across-the-board cuts known as the sequester was discussed at the Oct. 23 presidential debate on foreign policy. President Obama, who debated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Boca Raton, Fla., stated that sequestration was not going to be implemented. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney later told reporters that the sequester was designed as a mechanism to compel Congres [Read more]
State’s flu-shot mandate for health workers 1st of its kind in nation
Rhode Island, the nation’s smallest state, has taken a big step toward protecting the public’s health by mandating that all health care workers who have direct contact with patients be vaccinated against seasonal influenza. The requirement, issued by the Rhode Island Dept. of Health, marks the nation’s first statewide mandate of flu shots for health professionals. In other states, flu vaccine mandates have been set by individual employers, such as hospitals and health care centers. The Rhode Island mandate took effect Oct. 26, as the 2012-13 flu season was starting. State health officials hope the move will lead to a shorter flu season with fewer people infected. “Those who care for and interact with patients in a health care setting have a duty to protect the health and safety of those for whom they care,” said Michael Fine, MD, director of the health department. “A flu shot for all those who interact with patients as part of their employment or volunteer efforts [Read more]
Study details economic benefits of state Medicaid expansion
Michigan is one of several states that has yet to decide which path it will take on expanding Medicaid eligibility to an effective rate of 138% of the federal poverty level starting in 2014. A new report concludes that if the state decides to proceed with expansion, it could save hundreds of millions over a decade even while increasing enrollment in the program by more than 600,000 people under this Affordable Care Act provision. The report, prepared by the nonprofit Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation and several economists at the University of Michigan, analyzed three possible scenarios given a Michigan decision to go ahead with the full Medicaid expansion — low, moderate or high enrollment of mostly new eligibles in 2014. The center represents a partnership between the university and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Under the most likely scenario of moderate enrollment gains, the state could save about $983 million over 10 years, taking into account the federa [Read more]
More than half of hospitals don’t screen all ICU patients for MRSA
The majority of hospitals are eschewing aggressive, time-consuming and costly interventions that might help prevent the spread of multidrug-resistant organisms such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Forty percent of infection-control directors said their intensive care units screen all newly admitted patients for multidrug-resistant organisms, according to a study in the October American Journal of Infection Control. About 30% of ICUs do such screening periodically, said the study, based on a nationwide survey of infection-control directors at 250 hospitals operating 413 ICUs. An estimated 70% of bacteria that cause health care-associated infections are resistant to at least one antibiotic, the study said. Patients with staph infections, vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus or Clostridium difficile are 40% likelier to be readmitted within a year than other patients, said a study in June’s Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. Whether so-called universal scr [Read more]
Pharmacies take more active role in alerts on patients’ drugs
Physicians soon could be hearing more often from their patients’ pharmacies. Walgreens, which operates 7,944 stores in all 50 states, announced Oct. 16 the launch of its WellTransitions program for patients at high risk of readmission within 30 days of hospital stays. The program includes providing medication lists to patients’ primary care physicians and taking steps to make follow-up appointments. Walgreens also will provide medication review, bedside medication delivery and patient counseling. About a dozen health systems had signed on as of mid-October, and another dozen were negotiating to enlist the program’s help. WellTransitions is available at no cost to patients or physicians. Hospitals pay for the program either on a per-case basis or by giving WellTransitions a portion of the money saved on care. Details about how that would be split were not released. “What we’re working to do is be a resource for physicians and make it more likely that the patient is ac [Read more]
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