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Tax delinquents still drawing Medicaid pay, GAO reports
Health care professionals who owe significant back taxes for years still are getting paid by Medicaid because of a loophole in the tax laws, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report issued Aug. 2. GAO investigated known federal tax debts owed by Medicaid health care professionals in Florida, New York and Texas — three states whose Medicaid programs received some of the largest allotments of money from the 2009 federal stimulus package. The agency found that roughly 7,000 were delinquent on nearly $800 million in federal taxes from 2009 or earlier but had been paid a total of more than $6 billion by Medicaid. Because the estimates didn’t include entities that either had under-reported their income or failed to file tax returns, the watchdog agency expects that the amount of unpaid taxes was even higher. The report also profiled 40 Medicaid health care professionals or businesses that had sizable federal tax debts in these states. GAO found that they collectiv [Read more]
Hepatitis C outbreak raises public health concerns in 8 states
A health care-associated hepatitis C outbreak in New Hampshire has left health officials in eight states scrambling to identify and test people who might have been exposed to the virus, which can be fatal if left untreated. Those states are Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC is helping investigate the situation, which the agency said could become one of the nation’s largest health care-related hepatitis C outbreaks. “Hepatitis C is a terrible illness, and viral hepatitis often doesn’t present any symptoms until there’s already damage to the liver,” said Melissa Dankel, a spokeswoman for the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “It’s a bad situation.” The suspected source of the outbreak is a former New Hampshire medical technician with hepatitis C who injected himself with syringes containing fentanyl that were meant for patient [Read more]
Lawmakers blast Medicare for using Social Security numbers on IDs
House members sharply criticized the agency overseeing the Medicare program for not removing Social Security numbers from beneficiary identification cards, even though the practice exposes patients to identity theft. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services insists it is committed to protecting patient privacy. But changing the identification system would take up extensive cost, time and staff, a CMS official told the House Ways and Means Committee during an Aug. 1 hearing. CMS inaction on removing Social Security numbers from patient cards has frustrated lawmakers. The Government Accountability Office in 2002 had recommended that the agency use different identification numbers, and the House has adopted legislation in recent years mandating the change. The Veterans Health Administration and other agencies have removed Social Security numbers from their beneficiary cards, and CMS should be able to do the same, said Rep. Sam Johnson (R, Texas). He called on Tony Trenkle, CM [Read more]
Most hospital adverse events not reported to state systems
Hospitals reported only 8% of the adverse events that they were required to share with state authorities, said a July study from the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have adverse-event reporting systems, although the reporting requirements vary by state. Of 35 adverse events the OIG had identified previously in these states, only three were submitted to a state reporting system. The OIG found that only one Maryland hospital had internal reporting of an adverse event — excessive bleeding that prolonged a patient’s hospital stay — and did not report it when required. “For the remaining 31 events, hospitals had no record indicating that staff recognized the event had occurred,” the OIG report said. “This suggests that the low rate of reporting to state adverse-event reporting systems is due largely to hospital staff not identifying incidents of harm as reportable events.” Yet many of t [Read more]
Pediatric specialty shortages cause long waits for care
Shortages of pediatric specialists mean that many young patients must wait weeks and sometimes months to get an appointment, according to data released July 23 by the Children’s Hospital Assn. The organization surveyed 69 children’s hospitals nationwide and found that physician shortages are causing long waits for patients and lost referrals for doctors. For hospitals, the shortages mean widespread vacancies in needed specialties and rising recruitment costs. The effect on families can be devastating, said Mark Wietecha, president and CEO of the Children’s Hospital Assn., which represents 220 children’s hospitals nationwide. “Many children wait far too long to get needed services to diagnose, treat and manage all kinds of diseases,” he said. “When children don’t get timely care, they miss school, they can fall behind, their parents miss work, creating more family stress.” For primary care physicians, the shortages create difficulties in trying to refer you [Read more]
Pertussis outbreak prompts questions about whether booster doses are needed
Waning pertussis immunity from the Tdap vaccine is helping drive the nationwide surge in cases of the bacterial disease this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. To help slow the spread of the illness, which has led to the deaths of nine infants since January, researchers are examining Tdap effectiveness and duration of protection among adolescents in California and Washington, said Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. One question researchers are trying to answer is “whether you will need more booster doses during the adult years,” Dr. Schuchat said. The CDC recommends that children receive five doses of DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis) vaccine between 2 months and age 6 and a booster of pertussis-containing vaccine (Tdap) between ages 11 and 12. The booster also is recommended for pregnant women and other adults who never received Tdap or can’t remember getting it. [Read more]
One-year Medicare pay freeze proposed in House
A House Republican is urging his colleagues to approve legislation that prevents deep cuts to Medicare payment rates in 2013. Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R, Texas), is pushing House leadership to schedule a vote on his bill, the Assuring Medicare Stability and Access for Seniors Act of 2012, months before the lame-duck session of Congress that will occur after the November elections. The bill, introduced on July 20, would extend 2012 Medicare and Tricare payment rates through 2013. The legislation offers certainty to Medicare beneficiaries and physicians, Dr. Burgess said. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services estimates the Medicare sustainable growth rate formula will cut physician pay by 27% in 2013. Congress has several other large fiscal issues, such as expiring tax cut provisions and mandatory across-the-board spending reductions, to address during a tight legislative calendar before next year. Virtually all lawmakers agree that the SGR cut should not be allowed to r [Read more]
Groups aim to teach resident physicians to weigh costs in care
With health care expenditures projected to reach nearly 20% of the nation’s gross domestic product by 2020, more physicians need to learn to weigh the costs and benefits of care to patients, say officials with the American College of Physicians and the Alliance for Academic Internal Medicine. The two organizations have teamed up to offer a free curriculum designed to educate internal medicine residents about how to avoid contributing to rising health care costs with unnecessary care. “Physicians receive little specific training about identifying and eliminating wasteful diagnostic and treatment options,” said Cynthia D. Smith, MD, the ACP’s senior medical associate for content development. “Residency training is an excellent time to introduce the concept of high-value, cost-conscious care, because the habits that residents learn during training have been shown to stay with them throughout their professional careers.” The lessons are intended to give residents an un [Read more]
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