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Liability premiums stay stable, but insurers warn this might not last
For the fourth straight year, medical liability insurance premiums have eased nationwide. That's according to the annual Medical Liability Monitor survey, which showed 94% of premiums holding steady or dropping in 2009. Fifty-eight percent of premiums had no change, up from 50% in 2008. Another 36% of premiums fell, down from 43% last year. While those figures are encouraging, physicians and insurance executives say premiums still must shrink from sky-high levels. Insurers expect improvements to continue into next year but are cautious of some potentially unfavorable trends suggesting that results could be short-lived. "It does ease the pain, but the pain is still there because rates are still dramatically higher" than they were before rising in the early 2000s, said Robert D. Francis, chief operating officer of The Doctors Company, a Napa, Calif., physician-owned liability insurer that participated in the survey. Meanwhile, jury awards are climbing steadily, counteracting [Read more]
Physicians sue again to safeguard Pennsylvania's liability fund
Pennsylvania physicians have filed yet another lawsuit in an effort to preserve what's left of the state's medical liability insurance fund after the governor in October approved a $100 million withdrawal to balance the state's budget. Doctors and other health care professionals contribute annually to Mcare, the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund, which was authorized under a 2002 tort reform package. State physicians are required to carry $1 million in liability insurance, but the fund subsidizes half of their premiums. Gov. Ed Rendell and state lawmakers have said they plan to use what they contend is excess money in the Mcare pool to fund health care expansions and other budgetary needs. But physicians said the additional funds were meant to cover liability claims still pending in the courts. Those outstanding claims will cost an estimated $1.7 billion, according to the lawsuit filed Oct. 12 by the Pennsylvania Medical Society and state hospitals. Any mon [Read more]
FTC investigating CVS Caremark business practices
The Federal Trade Commission is examining the business dealings of CVS Caremark after getting complaints from several congressmen, pharmacists and patients. At the heart of the complaints is the 2007 merger between CVS and the pharmacy benefit manager Caremark. Critics say the merger may have resulted in a conflict of interest. The FTC was asked to investigate claims that the Caremark branch of the business was making it hard for its members to buy prescription drugs from non-CVS pharmacies. In a statement e-mailed to American Medical News, CVS Caremark acknowledged that it was being investigated but refuted the claims. "The company is not able to predict with certainty the timing, outcome or consequence of the investigation," wrote spokeswoman Carolyn Castel. "However, it remains confident that its business practices and service offerings (which are designed to reduce health care costs and expand consumer choice) are being conducted in compliance with the antitrust laws." [Read more]
Practices lose financial ground as recession outpaces productivity
When faced with payment cuts, physicians traditionally work longer hours or hire additional staff to help keep up revenue. But those strategies have reached their limit, a report from the Medical Group Management Assn. shows. After hitting a peak in 2007, the median revenue a practice collected per full-time-equivalent physician took a 7.8% dive in 2008, according to the MGMA report on multispecialty practices, released in October. While the organization also surveys single-specialty practices, the association views multispecialty practices as a proxy for overall economic trends for outpatient health care. The amount of gross revenue taken in by multispecialty practices per full-time physician steadily increased from $463,637 in 1998 to $690,032 in 2007, as annual productivity gains that often ran into the double digits helped lift revenues, mostly by single-digit percentages. But gross revenue dipped to $637,677 in 2008. "These data demonstrate the trickle-down effect that [Read more]
Medical schools, teaching hospitals help drive local economies
Medical schools and teaching hospitals had an economic impact of more than $512 billion in 2008, according to a report released Oct. 8 by the Assn. of American Medical Colleges. The 131 accredited medical schools and approximately 400 teaching hospitals employed about 1.86 million full-time workers. Indirect employment -- such as through contracts with food vendors -- brought the total to 3.3 million full-time jobs. That means one of every 43 wage earners in the U.S. is linked to an AAMC-member institution, according to the report (www.aamc.org/economicimpact/). The $512 billion impact was generated, in part, by money institutions spend on capital improvements and for drugs, medical disposables and other items. The report also factored in spending by employees, independent contractor physicians, medical residents and students, patients (outside the hospital) and visitors who came both to see patients and to attend meetings sponsored by the schools and hospitals. "U.S. medic [Read more]
Senate panel adopts bill restricting generic drug delays
Washington The Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 15 approved a bill that would restrict brand-name drug companies' abilities to settle patent disputes by paying drugmakers to delay the introduction of generics -- an arrangement sometimes called "pay-for-delay." The committee voted 12-7 to adopt the measure, known as the Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act. The bill has eight co-sponsors, including two Republicans. One of them -- Sen. Charles Grassley (R, Iowa) -- said the legislation is a response to a flurry of pay-for-delay arrangements after two appellate court decisions in 2005 allowed such deals. Nearly half of all patent settlements in the two years after the decisions involved pay-for-delay, he said. "Our bill takes direct aim at anti-consumer, anticompetitive agreements between generic and brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturers that line drugmakers' pockets at the expense of consumers," Grassley said. The bill would presume that pay-for-delay deals are illegal [Read more]
SEC inquiry sparks concern about HCA IPO
For-profit hospital chain HCA is under investigation into alleged payroll fraud at one of its hospitals in England. Analysts are wondering whether that will affect any plans to take the privately held company back to the stock market. HCA, based in Nashville, Tenn., operates 163 hospitals and 112 outpatient centers in 20 states and in England. It has been privately held since a 2006 buyout. Private investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts owns the majority stake in HCA. The New York-based firm has announced its intention to take other holdings public, fueling speculation about HCA. A statement from HCA about the investigation said a former employee who worked in the payroll department in London has sued the hospital chain and "has made assertions about the accuracy of our nurse scheduling systems and the related compensation paid in our six U.K. hospitals." London authorities declined to investigate, the HCA statement said. The statement continued, "her allegations have n [Read more]
H1N1 vaccine shortage leaves doctors managing crowds, anxieties
The unexpected delays in producing influenza (A)H1N1 vaccine, coupled with the virus' rapid spread, have left doctors nationwide scrambling to determine how to allocate meager vaccine supplies, and manage offices full of sick and worried patients and their families. "People are scared. People are frightened. And they're feeling like, 'Oh my God, I need the vaccine and it's not available,' " said John Sage, MD, a family physician and medical staff president at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. As of Oct. 23, around 11.3 million vaccine doses had been shipped to communities across the country, which is "nowhere near" the amount the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expected to have in circulation by then, said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH. Meanwhile, the H1N1 virus has swelled to epidemic levels nationwide -- pandemic globally -- with widespread flu activity reported in 46 states by Oct. 17. People are waiting in line for hours at community vaccin [Read more]
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