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ACP-ASIM calls for more funds for research, safety initiatives

From the July/August 2000 ACP-ASIM Observer, copyright 2000 by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

Policy Briefs

ACP–ASIM calls for more funds for research, safety initiatives

In two letters to Congress, College President Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, FACP, asked for more funding for Veteran Affairs (VA) medical research, patient safety initiatives and training programs.

In a June 2 letter to the House and Senate appropriations committees, Dr. Fryhofer called for a $65 million increase in the VA medical research budget for fiscal year 2001. She said that the current research budget of $321 million would force the VA to cut its research in critical areas like diabetes, mental health and Parkinson's disease. "The extraordinary quality and relevance of VA biomedical research justifies this long-term investment," she wrote. Dr. Fryhofer also called on the appropriations committees to increase funding for VA research programs by $30 million a year from 2002 to 2007.

In a May 10 letter, Dr. Fryhofer urged the Senate and House Appropriations, Labor, HHS and Education subcommittees to allocate $300 million to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) for fiscal year 2001. (President Clinton's proposed budget would give the agency $250 million.) The College would like $30 million of these funds to be used to create a center for patient safety, which would work to reduce medical errors and improve health outcomes.

Dr. Fryhofer also urged the subcommittees to increase funding for education programs for health professionals and nurses by $117 million. She said that the president's current budget request would force the closure of a number of programs that train professionals who work in underserved areas.

Both letters are available in the "Where We Stand" section of ACP-ASIM Online at www.acponline.org.

Medicare needs new billing rules to assuage internists' fears

With many internists nervous about making the simplest of billing mistakes, "the government needs to ensure that billing errors are not treated as fraud and abuse," the College said in a May 25 statement to the House Health Task Force Committee on the Budget.

In its statement, the College pointed out that physicians currently must deal with more than 100,000 pages of Medicare regulations, many of which are updated frequently. This "complex regulatory environment, which practically inhibits full compliance," the College said, needs to be simplified.

"Internists frequently tell us that they will go to jail for the simplest of mistakes," the statement said. "Although we explain that the standard for demonstrating fraud and abuse is much higher, the government should be troubled that this perception is so widespread."

ACP–ASIM recommended that the government streamline Medicare regulations, improve how regulations and updates are communicated to physicians and enhance physician education regarding the regulations. For a copy of the statement, go to ACP-ASIM Online at www.acponline.org/hpp/hbstmt.htm.

College describes its vision of a Medicare drug benefit

In a May 11 statement to the Ways and Means Committee's Subcommittee on Health, the College reiterated its support for a Medicare prescription drug benefit to be passed this legislative session. The statement said that any Medicare drug benefit must "have sustainable financing" and focus on helping low-income Americans. The statement also said that a Medicare drug benefit must include consumer protections, particularly if it is to use a formulary administered by a pharmacy benefit manager. For a copy of the statement, go to ACP-ASIM Online at www.acponline.org/hpp/testimony/pbm.htm.

HCFA needs to address doctor distrust of Medicare carriers

HCFA needs to do more to improve relations between its carriers and physicians, the College told the Practicing Physicians Advisory Council (PPAC) in a June 5 statement.

The statement said that HCFA "should make addressing physician distrust of carriers—and therefore distrust of the Medicare program—a top priority." Allaying physicians' concerns about the performance of their carriers, the College said, will allow physicians to further focus on patient care.

The College believes HCFA can improve physician satisfaction with Medicare by taking three steps: setting up tollfree phone lines for doctors, improving the training of audit personnel and the medical review process, and seeking physician input regarding carrier performance.

For a copy of the statement, go to ACP-ASIM Online at www.acponline.org/hpp/testjune.htm.

Former College Governor testifies about access before Senate panel

Former ACP-ASIM Governor Keith W. Michl, FACP, testified on behalf of the College on May 31 in Montpelier, Vt. At a field hearing on access to affordable health care, Dr. Michl, a geriatrician, talked about Vermont's success in expanding care to low-income residents and about obstacles that the state faces in paying for those efforts. He also cited the College's positions on access to health care. The hearing was held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. A copy of Dr. Michl's statement is on at ACP-ASIM Online at www.acponline.org/hpp/testimony/michl.htm.

College Master appointed commissioner of MedPAC

Alan R. Nelson, MACP, was appointed a commissioner of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) in May. Dr. Nelson is the former Associate Executive Vice President of the College and is currently special advisor to the College's Executive Vice President and Deputy Executive Vice President. He will work with the commission's 16 other members to improve Medicare and to advise Congress on issues affecting the federal health care program.

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