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Michigan hospital to cut physician pay
Beaumont Hospitals in suburban Detroit will reduce the salaries of staff physicians as part of a plan to cut costs by $10 million, according to a statement issued Sept. 29. Managers and executives also will see pay cuts. "Through outstanding expense management and better revenue management, we had gone from a $30 million loss last year to a positive $13.8 million net operating income through the end of June this year," said Kenneth J. Matzick, Beaumont president and CEO. "But our progress has been eroded by market conditions, such as continued job and insurance loss, below-budget patient volumes and a continued shift to government insurers that pay us less. We were at risk of losing money for a second year and can't let that happen." Layoffs of clinical staff are still rare, and even rarer are reports of salaries, including those of physicians, either being frozen or reduced across the board. Physician pay cuts "are probably the last thing [hospitals] want to do," said F. Remi [Read more]
850,000 physicians urged to be on lookout for signs of identity theft
A file containing unencrypted identifying information for every physician in the country who contracts with a BlueCross BlueShield-affiliated insurance plan was on a laptop computer stolen from an employee of the national association in Chicago. The employee-owned computer was taken from a car Aug. 27, yet notification of doctors didn't start until October. The BlueCross BlueShield Assn. told its affiliated plans a week after the theft. But "because of the way we're set up," said Blues spokesman Jeff Smokler, the 39 member plans did not start telling the affected 850,000 doctors until more than a month later As of mid-October, some physicians still had not received letters about the data breach, Smokler said. Doctors who weren't among the estimated 187,000 whose Social Security numbers were included in the data might not be informed at all. Unlike with patient data, there are no state and federal laws that require physicians to be told in a specified number of days of a data b [Read more]
Finance reform bill would tax higher-premium health plans
Despite some economists' wishes, one of the quirks of the U.S. health system might remain largely intact even if health system reform is enacted this year. The Senate Finance Committee approved a version of reform that would institute a tax on costly health plans to discourage overspending on health care and to pay for health coverage expansions. But the bill would not go as far as earlier committee discussions indicated it might. Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D, Mont.) had considered raising revenue and curbing spending on health insurance by limiting the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance. Workers with group coverage can use an unlimited amount of pre-tax dollars to pay for health premiums; employer spending is also exempt. But individual health plan subscribers can deduct only the amount they spend that is higher than 7.5% of their adjusted gross income, according to Dallas Salisbury, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Researc [Read more]
Diagnostic test can be patented, appeals court rules
In a decision that could have ramifications for medical research, a federal appeals court in September ruled that a diagnostic test for determining proper drug dosages to treat certain diseases is patentable under federal law. Prometheus Laboratories Inc. sued Mayo Collaborative Services for infringing on its patents on the test, which measures metabolite levels in patients taking thiopurine drugs, then correlates those levels with the drugs' efficacy. Mayo developed a different testing method for detecting such effects and argued that Prometheus' patents were invalid because they covered naturally occurring phenomena, namely patients' drug metabolite levels. In 2008, a federal trial agreed, finding that the patent violated federal laws barring the patentability of laws of nature, natural phenomena or abstract ideas. But a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, siding with Prometheus, said the patent was permissible because it involved a new application of [Read more]
Mandating cultural competency: Should physicians be required to take courses?
Study after study has shown that racial and ethnic disparities exist in health care delivery. How do health care professionals and others eliminate them? One approach appears to be gaining momentum: Mandate cultural competency training for physicians. In 2005, New Jersey began requiring physicians to take continuing medical education courses that provide a grounding in culturally competent patient care, in addition to CME courses needed to maintain their licenses. California also mandates cultural competency training for physicians, while Maryland "strongly recommends" it. And debates about requiring such training are taking place in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Washington, according to the Dept. of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health. "My sense is that [cultural competency training] is increasing dramatically," said Robert Like, MD, professor of family medicine and director of the Center for Healthy Families [Read more]
Coventry to buy Kansas health plan
Coventry Health Care plans to buy a hospital-owned health plan that will add 120,000 members to its rolls. The acquisition, Preferred Health Systems, is a subsidiary of Via Christi Health System, a Wichita, Kan.-based network of hospitals and nursing homes. Doctors in Wichita are sorry to see a locally owned health plan disappear, but they are trying to withhold judgment about Coventry until they see the company in action, said Joe Davison, MD, a Wichita family physician and president of the Kansas Medical Society. Dr. Davison also is the past president of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County and was speaking on behalf of the county society. "We are not going to start off this new relationship with bad blood," he said. Dr. Davison said physicians in Kansas are historically wary of national health plans. He cited the role the state medical society played in fighting to stop BlueCross BlueShield of Kansas' proposed conversion to a for-profit plan so it could be acquired by [Read more]
Pharmacy groups sue over Medicaid drug cuts
Cuts to Medicaid prescription drug payments in four states could jeopardize patients' access to needed medications, according to separate lawsuits filed by several national and state pharmacy organizations. The National Assn. of Chain Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Assn. and local pharmacy groups allege that the state Medicaid programs are basing their payment rates on artificially low benchmarks for the average wholesale price for various prescription drugs. As a result, many pharmacies are being paid well below the cost of stocking medications and may be forced either to drop their Medicaid contracts or close their doors altogether, according to complaints filed Sept. 29 in separate federal courts in California, Minnesota, New York and Washington. The pharmacy organizations argue that the reductions violate federal laws requiring payment rates be set at sufficient levels to ensure that Medicaid patients have the same access to prescription drugs as patients who [Read more]
Connecticut court opens door for patients to see peer review records
A recent Connecticut Supreme Court decision has chipped away the state's peer review privilege, physicians say. On Aug. 25, the high court ruled that certain peer review protections do not apply to patient requests for related information through the state's Freedom of Information Act. Justices in a split decision said peer review records were protected from disclosure only in court actions. The case was sparked when a physician's former patient sought records from the University of Connecticut Health Center regarding the hospital's decision not to renew the doctor's clinical privileges. Because the hospital was a public institution, the high court found it was subject to the Freedom of Information Act and allowed the patient access to the credentialing records. The ruling not only puts state hospitals at a disadvantage for peer reviews, but it also could affect private facilities if the public is permitted to scrutinize peer review information, said Layne Gakos, the Connectic [Read more]
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