Volume 15, No 41
Dec. 9, 2013
CANDIDATES SWARM TO TEXPAC FORUMS: We promoted it as “Two Hours. Six Men. Tough Questions,” and that’s exactly what it was. Two candidates for the Republican nomination for attorney general and four men seeking the GOP nod for lieutenant governor faced the heat this weekend at TEXPAC forums.
- For attorney general, State Sen. Ken Paxton (R-McKinney) and Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman took questions from Texas Tribune Editor Ross Ramsey. They both spoke about eliminating government and insurance company interference in the patient-physician relationship. State Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas) could not attend due to the death of his father, San Antonio neurosurgeon Charles Branch Sr., MD. Watch the tapes if you missed the event.
- The candidates for lieutenant governor took off the gloves in a wide-ranging discussion moderated by Texas Tribune reporter Reeve Hamilton. The incumbent, David Dewhurst; Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson; State Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston); and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples all participated, discussing health care issues as well as how they would run the Texas Senate if elected. Again, you can watch the recording if you wish.
14 LAWMAKERS HONORED AS "PATIENT PROTECTORS": Remember the outstanding results we were able to obtain from this year’s session of the Texas Legislature? That happens not only because of great physician leadership and strong grassroots involvement, but also because we elected outstanding senators and representatives who will take the time to listen to our concerns and help us craft real-world solutions. At this weekend’s TMA Advocacy Retreat, we presented the TMA Patient Protection Awards to 14 state legislators who met that high standard. The awards help us to cement strong relationships with men and women like State Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), who said, “It’s always been an honor for this lawyer to represent the doctors of the Texas Medical Association.” The other recipients are State Reps. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston), Bill Callegari (R-Katy), Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), Sarah Davis (R-Houston), Craig Eiland (D-Galveston), Four Price (R-Amarillo), and Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston). From the other side of the rotunda, we honored State Sens. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler), Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), and Royce West (D-Dallas). We will continue to recognize other legislative champions for medicine in the future, particularly those physician and alliance members who serve and are part of the “family of medicine.” Also, our county medical societies have already begun to issue their “best” awards to lawmakers from their areas. All of these fine legislators deserve our sincere thanks, appreciation, and continued support. Also at the advocacy retreat:
- Physician and staff leaders from county medical societies around the state shared their concerns and received a briefing on practice management and advocacy issues.
- The TMA Board of Trustees approved a lean association budget for 2014 that includes no increase in TMA dues.
- The board received an update on the status of the TMA Physician Services Organization project. We are still on track to launch in the first quarter of 2014. See January’s issue of Texas Medicine for more details.
IT'S SHOWDOWN WEEK ON SGR REPEAL: A number of developments late last week on the repeal of Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula will make for some interesting Washington watching over the next few days as Congress prepares for the December recess. “I expect the committee to consider the legislation before the end of next week,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chair David Camp (R-Mich.). The Senate Finance Committee has hearings scheduled for this week. The Congressional Budget Office cut the 10-year cost estimate for repealing the physician payment formula from $139 billion to $116.5 billion. We’re hoping that will add to the momentum to finally eliminate this albatross from around physicians’ necks. Also, the Ways and Means Committee and Finance Committee released a new framework for the repeal legislation. It still has no guarantee for any Medicare payment increases (“positive updates” in Washington parlance). However, the revised plan would reduce the potential penalties for the “value-based performance program” that would replace several existing bonus/penalty programs like meaningful use and the Physician Quality Reporting System. It also would give practices more time to transition away from fee-for-service and into “alternative payment models.” Absent any congressional action, the SGR mandates a 24-percent cut in physician’s Medicare payment rates beginning Jan. 1. Given the tight time frame, many Congress watchers are predicting that a full repeal bill will not pass before lawmakers go home for the holidays. Given all of that, here are TMA’s priorities:
- Continue the progress toward full repeal of the SGR;
- Include positive updates for physicians who have been strapped with a decade-long freeze in their Medicare payments;
- Ensure that any short-term “bridge” to forestall the 24-percent cut doesn’t cause payment delays, cash-flow problems, and accounting headaches for physicians — as we’ve seen in the past; and
- Include relief for physicians from the growing multitudes of onerous regulations that add cost to medical practices but add no value to patient care.