AMA News in Brief

Pa. physicians call for medical liability relief

Pennsylvania physicians rallied at the state’s Capitol in September urging lawmakers to preserve medical liability insurance relief to avoid access-to-care shortages.

The Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error program covers at least 50% of doctors’ required $1 million coverage, in exchange for the physicians committing to practice in the state for at least one year.

The funding authorization for Mcare expired in June, leaving doctors responsible for the full cost of insurance. It was extended temporarily until November, but Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell has pledged not to renew the program unless the Legislature agrees to pass his plan to cover the uninsured. The Pennsylvania Access to Basic Care proposal is before the House.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society asked the governor and lawmakers to address the Mcare reauthorization independent of the uninsured issue. Physicians fear that without the relief, unaffordable insurance costs will continue to drive doctors out of state.

Mississippi plugs Medicaid budget hole

A $90 million deficit in Mississippi’s Medicaid program for fiscal year 2009 was erased last month with $92 million in refunded overpayments the state made to the federal government for dual eligibles’ Medicare Part B premiums. The payment errors began when the state implemented new payment software.

The $92 million represents overpayments Mississippi made between April 1, 2006, and June 30, 2008, said Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services spokeswoman Mary Kahn. The state actually overpaid Part B premiums starting in October 2003, but a federal rule restricts the recovery period to the last two years, she said. Mississippi has averaged 130,000 dual eligibles over the last three years, said Mississippi Division of Medicaid spokesman Francis Rullan.

But the state still faces an ongoing Medicaid funding deficit. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has supported increasing taxes on hospitals to fill that gap, while Democrats in the Mississippi House prefer increasing the state’s tobacco tax to erase the Medicaid deficit completely. Barbour is open to raising the tobacco tax, but not if the money is designated for a specific purpose, said the governor’s spokesman, Pete Smith.

The Mississippi State Medical Assn., meanwhile, has adopted positions in favor of fully funding Medicaid and increasing the tobacco tax, according to MSMA President J. Patrick Barrett, MD.

ADA expansion becomes law

President Bush on Sept. 25 signed into law an expansion of the Americans with Disabilities Act that Congress adopted in reaction to a series of Supreme Court decisions scaling back the original 1990 law. For example, the court ruled in 1999 that a disabled person who neutralized a disability with medication or a prosthetic device was no longer legally disabled.

The Senate on Sept. 11 unanimously adopted the measure, formally known as ADA Amendments Act of 2008. The House adopted it by voice vote on Sept. 17. Sen. Tom Harkin (D, Iowa), who sponsored both the original ADA and the new measure, applauded the approval. “I am deeply gratified that we could work in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that all Americans have the right to equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency,” he said.

Andrew Imparato, president and CEO of the American Assn. of People with Disabilities, thanked the president for his support. “President Bush has followed in his father’s footsteps and taken a stand for equal opportunity and full participation for all Americans.”

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