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Medicare News This Week: The 27.5% Cut, Meaningful Use Stage 2 Specifications, and Upcoming Webinars

This Week’s Medicare News for Medical Practice Managers

Posted in: Day-to-Day Operations, Electronic Medical Records, Finance, Headlines, Medicare & Reimbursement, Medicare This Week

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Physicians Have Something to Celebrate as the Medicare Cut is Delayed One Year and Physicians Are Exempt From the Red Flags Rules

Two milestone Acts were approved by Congress this week and both will be presented to President Obama for his signature shortly.

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What he will be signing:

  1. The “Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010” This legislation freezes Medicare physician payments at current rates  through the end of 2011. The Act also includes funds for Medicare contractors to pay claims for physician services affected by provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed last spring. The bill, estimated to cost $19.3 billion over 10 years, will be paid for by changing a provision of the health reform act that provides tax credits for people who buy coverage.  President Obama released a statement saying:  “It’s time for a permanent solution that seniors and their doctors can depend on and I look forward to working with Congress to address this matter once and for all in the coming year.
  2. Red Flag Program Clarification Act of 2010”  changes the Red Flags Rule’s definition of “creditor” and relieves doctors from complying with the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft prevention law.

Posted in: Headlines, Medicare & Reimbursement

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A Perfect Day in Your Medical Practice: The Efficient and Well-Run Medical Office

Toilet paper

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  • All available appointments are full.
  • All staff showed up for their shifts.
  • No one burns toast in the toaster oven and sets off the fire alarm.
  • None of the staff show up to work wearing flip-flops or pink underwear beneath their white scrubs.
  • All patients have been reminded about their appointments so they all show up.
  • Patients calling for same-day appointments are able to be worked-in appropriately.
  • No patients give false information at check-in.
  • Established patients arrive on time with their insurance information and co-pay.
  • New patients arrive on time to complete their paperwork, and give their insurance card, photo ID and co-pay to the receptionist.
  • Patients with x-rays or other imaging studies bring the films or a CD.
  • Patients with fasting appointments arrive having fasted.
  • All patients arrive bringing their bag of medications.
  • Patients in wheelchairs and with difficulty ambulating are accompanied by caregivers.
  • Patients who do not speak English or are deaf have notified the office prior to the appointment and the appropriate technology or interpreters are available for the appointment.
  • Patients with procedure appointments have followed their pre-procedure instructions.
  • Patients with procedures have been pre-authorized by their insurance carrier and their personal financial responsibility has been discussed with them and payment arrangements have been made.
  • Patient eligibility has been checked and those unable to be authorized have been called before their appointment to gain further information about their payer source.
  • If computers go down, there are paper procedures in place to enable staff to continue seeing patients.
  • No patients arrive saying “I forgot to tell you, this is Worker’s Comp/ an auto accident/ a liability case and I was told by my lawyer not to pay anything.”
  • None of the patients pee on a waiting room chair.
  • Neither JCAHO nor any state or federal officers show up.
  • The copiers and faxes all work.
  • No subpoenas come in the mail.
    Letter Carrier Delivering Mail
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  • It’s not your very first day live on electronic medical records.
  • All phone calls are answered before the third ring and no one has to leave a message.
  • No patients walk in the door with severe chest pains and say “I knew the doctor would want to see me.”
  • Patients remember to call the pharmacy for refills.
  • Providers all run on time and seem in particularly good moods.
  • Patients get their questions answered with callbacks within two hours.
  • Someone delivers sandwiches, drinks and brownies to the practice for lunch.  There is enough for everyone.
  • No bounced checks come in the mail.
  • Providers spend so much time in the exam room listening to their patients that the patients leave feeling that every question they had (and a few they didn’t know they had) was answered.
  • Providers circle the services and write the diagnosis codes numerically on the encounter form, remembering that Medicare doesn’t pay for consults any more.
  • Sample medications that providers want to give patients are in the sample closet.
  • Records that providers want to reference are in the chart and are highlighted.
  • No one calls urgently for old medical records that are in the storage unit across town.
  • There are no duplicate medical records.
  • Patients checking out never say “But he was only in the room for 5 minutes!”
  • The patient restrooms don’t run out of toilet paper.
  • No bankruptcy notices come in the mail.
  • All phlebotomists get blood on the first stick.
  • No kids cry.
  • The HVAC system works beautifully, keeping it cool where it needs to be cool, and warm where it needs to be warm.
  • Congress announces that the SGR formula has been revoked and a new reasonable model for paying physicians has been discovered.
  • Everyone goes home at 5:00 p.m., glad to have a job, glad to be of service, and happy with their paychecks.

Posted in: A Career in Practice Management, Day-to-Day Operations

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91 Physician Organizations Sign Statement Naming Congress in “Mismanagement of the Medicare Program” and Imploring it to “Honor its Obligation”

UPDATE: On June 25, 2010, President Obama signed into law the “Preservation of Access to Care for Medicare Beneficiaries and Pension Relief Act of 2010 (H.R. 3962)” which includes a delay in the 21+% Medicare fee cut until November 30, 2010. CMS will have the MACs start processing new claims with dates of service of June 1, 2010 and later at the 2009 fee schedule plus a 2.2% increase.  The MACs will also have to reprocess the claims already paid for dates of service June 1, 2010 and later that were processed with 2010 fee schedule and that big fat cut.

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Note: On June 16, 2010 the Senate failed to pass a proposal that would increase the Medicare reimbursement for physicians by 2.2% for the balance of calendar year 2010 and by 1% for calendar year 2011.   Senate leadership is now working on a plan to extend the freeze until year-end.  The following statement was released by the state medical societies of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as 41 specialty physician organizations.

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Statement of the State and Specialty Medical Societies on the Medicare Physician Payment Crisis

Failure by Congress to fulfill its responsibilities is undermining patient care in America.  Three times this year, Congress has missed a deadline for dealing with Medicare’s sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, raising the specter of a 21 percent payment cut for physician services.  The disruption and uncertainty for patients and physicians has made Medicare an unreliable program.

If Congress does not act this week, Medicare physician payments will be cut 21 percent.  These cuts will also extend to the TRICARE program which serves military families, as well as some Medicaid programs, workers compensation programs and private insurance plans.  The ripple effect of the 21 percent Medicare cut will be devastating to physician practices.

Congressional mismanagement of the Medicare program will force more physicians to stop accepting new Medicare and TRICARE patients; lay-off staff; and defer investment in new medical equipment, health information technology, and other innovations that improve patient care.

Patients and physicians should not become collateral damage in a Congressional stalemate on budgetary matters.  We expect our elected officials to resolve the budget issues without punishing physicians, seniors and military families.

Past actions by Congress created the current budgetary challenge.  Further, since 2003, Congress has compounded this problem by employing budget gimmicks that defer immediate cuts by stipulating deeper cuts in future years.

Democrats and Republicans agree that the flawed Medicare formula that is responsible for pending cuts should be repealed.  The annual SGR battle diverts attention from more productive delivery and payment reform initiatives.  We must move to a payment system that fosters innovation and rewards physician efforts to lower the rate of growth in Medicare spending across the existing silos in the program.

Medicare must adequately cover the cost of care and close an existing 20 percent gap as measured by the government’s own conservative measure of annual increases in medical practice costs.

We must also allow seniors who wish to contract directly for their care with a physician of their choice to do so without foregoing the Medicare benefits for which they paid during their working years.  Medicare benefits were earned by and belong to Medicare beneficiaries.  They must be allowed to assign these benefits as they see fit.

Playing brinksmanship with the health care of seniors and military families is inexcusable and represents a dereliction of duty.  We urge Congress to honor its obligation to provide access to quality care to America’s seniors and military families by taking action to fix the Medicare physician formula problem now!

American Academy of Dermatology
American Academy of Facial Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Hospice & Palliative Medicine
American Academy of Neurology
American Academy of Ophthalmology
American Academy of Pain Medicine
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
American Academy of Sleep Medicine
American Association for Hand Surgery
American Association of Clinical Endocrinologist
American Association of Clinical Urologist
American Association of Neurological Surgeons
American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine
American Association of Public Health Physicians
American College of Cardiology
American College of Emergency Physicians
America College of Gastroenterology
American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists
American College of Occupational & Environmental Medicine
American College of Rheumatology
American College of Surgeons
American Gastroenterological Association
American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine
American Medical Association
American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society
American Society for Clinical Pathology
American Society for Reproductive Medicine
American Society for Surgery of the Hand
American Society of Addiction Medicine
American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery
American Society of Cytopathology
American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery
College of American Pathologists
Congress of Neurological Surgeons
Heart Rhythm Society
North American Spine Society
Renal Physicians Association
Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons
Society of Nuclear Medicine

Medical Association of the State of Alabama
Alaska State Medical Association
Arizona Medical Association
Arkansas Medical Society
California Medical Association
Colorado Medical Society
Connecticut State Medical Society
Medical Society of Delaware
Medical Society of the District of Columbia
Florida Medical Association, Inc.
Medical Association of Georgia
Hawaii Medical Association
Idaho Medical Association
Illinois State Medical Society
Indiana State Medical Association
Iowa Medical Society
Kansas Medical Society
Kentucky Medical Association
Louisiana State Medical Society
Maine Medical Association
MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Society
Massachusetts Medical Society
Michigan State Medical Society
Minnesota Medical Association
Mississippi State Medical Association
Missouri State Medical Association
Montana Medical Association
Nebraska Medical Association
Nevada State Medical Association
New Hampshire Medical Society
Medical Society of New Jersey
New Mexico Medical Society
Medical Society of the State of New York
North Carolina Medical Society
North Dakota Medical Association
Ohio State Medical Association
Oklahoma State Medical Association
Oregon Medical Association
Pennsylvania Medical Society
Rhode Island Medical Society
South Carolina Medical Association
South Dakota State Medical Association
Tennessee Medical Association
Texas Medical Association
Utah Medical Association
Vermont  Medical Society
Medical Society of Virginia
Washington State Medical Association
West Virginia State Medical Association
Wisconsin Medical Society
Wyoming Medical Society

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Posted in: Headlines, Medicare & Reimbursement

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Historic Votes on H.R. 3590 and H.R. 4872 Usher In Healthcare Reform

As I write this Sunday night I am listening to the US House of Representatives’ discussion/posturing prior to a ‘yes” or “no” vote for the Senate’s healthcare reform bill H. R. 3590.  I don’t usually listen to CNN Live, but I want to remember this moment as I think it is the beginning of significant change in healthcare.

I’m not sure what this change will be, but many things that have been status quo for healthcare during my career might change almost beyond recognition by the time I retire. This, I think, is a good thing.  I don’t think the current system is bad, but I sure think it could be better.  As with any change, there will be good things, bad things, and unintended good and bad things.  It should be fascinating.

Discussion has now timed out and the representatives are voting;  216 votes are needed to pass.  The vote has just been announced (10:45 p.m.) and it is 219 Yeas to 210 Nays and the bill is passed!  The next step is for it to be signed into law by President Obama, which might happen tonight or tomorrow.

Now the representatives are voting on H.R. 4872 – “The Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010” which contains fixes to H.R. 3590 that have been negotiated between the two chambers.  The bill has just passed (11:37 p.m.) with 220 Yeas and 211 Nays!  4872 will now go to the Senate for a vote which some are predicting will pass as early as Tuesday.

President Obama spoke from the White House after the votes and said “Tonight we answered the call of history.”  The passage of these bills has been compared to the passage of Medicare in 1965 and the passage of Social Security in 1935.

Here are details of both bills.

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Details on H.R. 3590 ”˜”˜Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’’

Cost: $940 billion over ten years.

Deficit: Would reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the first ten years.   Would reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion dollars in the second ten years.

Coverage: Would expand coverage to 32 million Americans who are currently uninsured.

Health Insurance Exchanges:

  • The uninsured and self-employed would be able to purchase insurance through state-based exchanges with subsidies available to individuals and families with income between the 133 percent and 400 percent of poverty level.
  • Separate exchanges would be created for small businesses to purchase coverage — effective 2014.
  • Funding available to states to establish exchanges within one year of enactment and until January 1, 2015.

Subsidies: Individuals and families who make between 100 percent – 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and want to purchase their own health insurance on an exchange are eligible for subsidies. They cannot be eligible for Medicare, Medicaid and cannot be covered by an employer. Eligible buyers receive premium credits and there is a cap for how much they have to contribute to their premiums on a sliding scale.  Federal Poverty Level for family of four is $22,050.

Paying for the Plan:

  • Medicare Payroll tax on investment income — Starting in 2012, the Medicare Payroll Tax will be expanded to include unearned income. That will be a 3.8 percent tax on investment income for families making more than $250,000 per year ($200,000 for individuals).
  • Excise Tax — Beginning in 2018, insurance companies will pay a 40 percent excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” high-end insurance plans worth over $27,500 for families ($10,200 for individuals). Dental and vision plans are exempt and will not be counted in the total cost of a family’s plan.
  • Tanning Tax — 10 percent excise tax on indoor tanning services.

Medicare:

  • Closes the Medicare prescription drug “donut hole” by 2020. Seniors who hit the donut hole by 2010 will receive a $250 rebate.
  • Beginning in 2011, seniors in the gap will receive a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs. The bill also includes $500 billion in Medicare cuts over the next decade.

Medicaid: Expands Medicaid to include 133 percent of federal poverty level which is $29,327 for a family of four.

  • Requires states to expand Medicaid to include childless adults starting in 2014.
  • Federal Government pays 100 percent of costs for covering newly eligible individuals through 2016.
  • Illegal immigrants are not eligible for Medicaid.

Insurance Reforms:

  • Six months after enactment, insurance companies can no longer deny children coverage based on a preexisting condition.
  • Starting in 2014, insurance companies cannot deny coverage to anyone with preexisting conditions.
  • Insurance companies must allow children to stay on their parent’s insurance plans through age 26.

Abortion:

  • The bill segregates private insurance premium funds from taxpayer funds. Individuals would have to pay for abortion coverage by making two separate payments, private funds would have to be kept in a separate account from federal and taxpayer funds.
  • No health care plan would be required to offer abortion coverage. States could pass legislation choosing to opt out of offering abortion coverage through the exchange.

**Separately, anti-abortion Democrats worked out language with the White House on an executive order that would state that no federal funds can be used to pay for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or health of the mother. (Read more here)

Individual Mandate: In 2014, everyone must purchase health insurance or face a $695 annual fine. There are some exceptions for low-income people.

Employer Mandate: Technically, there is no employer mandate. Employers with more than 50 employees must provide health insurance or pay a fine of $2000 per worker each year if any worker receives federal subsidies to purchase health insurance. Fines applied to entire number of employees minus some allowances.

Immigration: Illegal immigrants will not be allowed to buy health insurance in the exchanges — even if they pay completely with their own money.

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Details on H.R. 4872 – “The Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010” (fixes to 3590)

COST: $940 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

HOW MANY COVERED: 32 million uninsured. Major coverage expansion begins in 2014. When fully phased in, 95 percent of eligible Americans would have coverage, compared with 83 percent today.

INSURANCE MANDATE: Almost everyone is required to be insured or else pay a fine. There is an exemption for low-income people. Mandate takes effect in 2014.

INSURANCE MARKET REFORMS: Major consumer safeguards take effect in 2014. Insurers prohibited from denying coverage to people with medical problems or charging them more. Higher premiums for women would be banned. Starting this year, insurers would be forbidden from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies, and from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing medical problems. Parents would be able to keep older kids on their policies up to age 26. A new high-risk pool would offer coverage to uninsured people with medical problems until 2014, when the coverage expansion goes into high gear.

MEDICAID: Expands the federal-state Medicaid insurance program for the poor to cover people with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, $29,327 a year for a family of four. Childless adults would be covered for the first time, starting in 2014. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the tab for covering newly eligible individuals through 2016. A special deal that would have given Nebraska 100 percent federal financing for newly eligible Medicaid recipients in perpetuity is eliminated. A different, one-time deal negotiated by Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu for her state, Louisiana, worth as much as $300 million, remains.

TAXES: Dramatically scales back a Senate-passed tax on high-cost insurance plans that was opposed by House Democrats and labor unions. The tax would be delayed until 2018, and the thresholds at which it is imposed would be $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families. To make up for the lost revenue, the bill applies an increased Medicare payroll tax to investment income as well as wages for individuals making more than $200,000, or married couples above $250,000. The tax on investment income would be 3.8 percent.

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: Gradually closes the “doughnut hole” coverage gap in the Medicare prescription drug benefit that seniors fall into once they have spent $2,830. Seniors who hit the gap this year will receive a $250 rebate. Beginning in 2011, seniors in the gap receive a discount on brand name drugs, initially 50 percent off. When the gap is completely eliminated in 2020, seniors will still be responsible for 25 percent of the cost of their medications until Medicare’s catastrophic coverage kicks in.

EMPLOYER RESPONSIBILITY: As in the Senate bill, businesses are not required to offer coverage. Instead, employers are hit with a fee if the government subsidizes their workers’ coverage. The $2,000-per-employee fee would be assessed on the company’s entire workforce, minus an allowance. Companies with 50 or fewer workers are exempt from the requirement. Part-time workers are included in the calculations, counting two part-timers as one full-time worker.

SUBSIDIES: The proposal provides more generous tax credits for purchasing insurance than the original Senate bill did. The aid is available on a sliding scale for households making up to four times the federal poverty level, $88,200 for a family of four. Premiums for a family of four making $44,000 would be capped at around 6 percent of income.

HOW YOU CHOOSE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE: Small businesses, the self-employed and the uninsured could pick a plan offered through new state-based purchasing pools called exchanges, opening for business in 2014. The exchanges would offer the same kind of purchasing power that employees of big companies benefit from. People working for medium-to-large firms would not see major changes. But if they lose their jobs or strike out on their own, they may be eligible for subsidized coverage through the exchange.

GOVERNMENT-RUN PLAN: No government-run insurance plan. People purchasing coverage through the new insurance exchanges would have the option of signing up for national plans overseen by the federal office that manages the health plans available to members of Congress. Those plans would be private, but one would have to be nonprofit.

ABORTION: The proposal keeps the abortion provision in the Senate bill. Abortion opponents disagree on whether restrictions on taxpayer funding go far enough. The bill tries to maintain a strict separation between taxpayer dollars and private premiums that would pay for abortion coverage. No health plan would be required to cover abortion. In plans that do cover abortion, policyholders would have to pay for it separately, and that money would have to be kept in a separate account from taxpayer money. States could ban abortion coverage in plans offered through the exchange. Exceptions would be made for cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.

STUDENT LOAN OVERHAUL: Requires the government to originate student loans, closing out a role for banks and other private lenders who charge a fee. The savings ”“ projected to be more than $60 billion over a decade ”“ are plowed into higher Pell Grants for needy college students and increased support for historically black colleges.

MEDICARE: Extends Medicare’s solvency by at least nine years and reduces the rate of its growth by 1.4 percent, while closing the doughnut hole for seniors, meaning there will no longer be a gap in coverage of medication.

Posted in: Finance, Headlines, Medicare & Reimbursement, Memes

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