March 17, 2003

 
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U.S. House Passes Medical Liability Reform Bill!
On Thursday, March 13th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5, the AMA supported medical liability reform bill by a vote of 229 to 196. Both of Maine's Congressman voted against the bill.
As passed by the House, the HEALTH Act includes the following reforms:

  • Allows patients to recover for full economic damages, such as future medical expenses and loss of future earnings, while establishing a limit on non-economic damages of $250,000.  Non-economic damages are the fastest growing portion of  liability awards.
  • Allocates damages in proportion to a party's degree of fault, thus legislatively amending the principle of joint and several liability.
  • Limits the number of years a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit to three years from date of injury and one year from date of discovery.
  • Limits legal fees to 40% of the first $50,000 awarded and 15% of awards in excess of $600,000.  (Maine's limits are currently 33and 1/3% of the first $100,000, 25% of the next $100,000 and 20% of any amount over $200,000. As at some levels Maine's contingent fee limits are more favorable to plaintiffs than the federal proposal but at other levels are less favorable, we are not certain at this point which limit would apply.)

          As Maine law does not cap non-economic damages in a medical malpractice case,  and also does not contain any adjustment to the principle of joint and several liability, H.R. 5 would have a very favorable impact on medical liability premiums in Maine.  As the battle now moves to the United States Senate, please consider sending a note to Maine's two Senators who are expected to play a pivotal role in the Senate's deliberations.  E mail addresses are Senator@Collins.Senate.gov and Senator@Snowe.Senate.gov

            For more information on the medical liability reform issue, visit the AMA in Washington website at www.ama-assn.org/grassroots.

TRICARE Payment Rates to Increase
The Department of Defense/Health Affairs has determined that the payment rates for the fee-for-service portion of TRICARE will be increased April 1 to reflect the recent adjustment to Medicare rates.  This decision means that physicians and other providers paid on a fee-for-service basis by TRICARE will receive an additional $75 million in payments for the year beginning April 1.  CHAMPUS/TRICARE uses a payment system called Maximum Allowable Charge System (CMAC) for its fee-for-service business which is intended to be modeled after Medicare payment rates.

The change represents a 1.62% increase in the conversion factor which will be effective for services provided on or after April 1.  Claims processed with dates of service prior to April 1, 2003 will be subject to the 2002 CMAC rates. [return to top]

U.S. House Passes H.R. 663, the "Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act."
On March 12th, by a vote of 418 to 6, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 663, the 'Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act.'  The bill allows physicians and other health professionals to report health errors on a voluntary and confidential basis.  Patient Safety Organizations (PSOs) would analyze the problems, identify solutions and provide feedback aimed at preventing future errors.  A database would be created to track national trends and recurring problems.

The legislation now moves to the U.S. Senate.  For more information on the patient safety issue, you may visit the AMA in Washington website at www.ama-assn.org/grassroots. [return to top]

Medical Staff Bylaws: Ensuring the Rights of Patients and Physicians
Maine Medical Staff Leaders are invited to attend a program on Medical Staff Bylaws sponsored by the Massachusetts Medical Society and its Organized Medical Staff Section.  The Program is entitled, Medical Staff Bylaws:  Ensuring the RIghts of Patients and Physicians, and will be held Thursday, April 10th, 4:00 to 8:00pm at the MMS Headquarters in Waltham.  Four category one CME credits are offered.

 This program - designed for physicians with clinical privileges in hospitals, hospital and department directors and other hospital-based professionals -will outline the benefits of strong medical staff bylaws.  In addition, program participants will learn firsthand of one physician's experience with medical staff issues and his perspective on the value of strong organizational leadership and physician commitment in a hospital setting.

For more information, contact the MMS Department of Medical Education Services at 781-434-7306 or medicaleducation@mms.org. [return to top]

AMA Offers Physicians Help During Transition to Active Military Duty
As the buildup to a potential war continues, increasing numbers of physicians are being called from the reserves to active duty.  A popular Central Maine area surgeon leaves his family tonight for a stint that could last up to two years.  The AMA and MMA recognize the hardship that is created for families and partners when duty calls.  In such instances, MMA waives the member's dues while the physician is on active duty.  In addition, the AMA has provided resources to help reserve physicians prepare for the transition:

ACTIVATION OF MEDICAL OFFICERS; QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS - This Guide provides answers to common questions physician reservists have during a military call-up.  The topics include waivers, recalls and recalls for 'retired' physicians.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR PHYSICIAN RESERVISTS CALLED TO ACTIVE DUTY - This online guide includes the following information:

  • Practice Tips...for Physicians Owning Practices
  • Tips...for Physicians in Training
  • Tips...for the Employed Physician
  • Financial/Personal Issues to Consider
  • Hardship Exceptions
  • Additional Resources

RESOURCE GUIDE FOR PHYSICIANS CALLED TO ACTIVE DUTY - This publication, available in Word Format or PDF format, contains information to assist both employed and physician owners in their transition from private practice to active duty.  It includes discussion on the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act, an active duty readiness checklist and sample letters to patients and managed care plans.

All of these publications are available from the AMA website at www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/6530.html [return to top]

Orthopaedic Surgeons Meet for Annual Winter Conference
Maine's orthopaedic surgery community met for three days at Sugarloaf last week at the 12th Annual Winter Conference; Contemporary Topics in Orthopaedics.  The conference was co-sponsored by the Maine Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Medical Mutual Insurance Company of Maine, Eastern Maine Medical Center and St. Joseph Healthcare.  Utilizing faculty from both Maine and beyond, topics ranged from Total Joint Arthroplasty Clinical Practices to Multi-Model Pain Management.

At a meeting of the Maine Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons held during the Conference,  David Lovett, J.D., Director of the Washington Office of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons provided an update on federal legislative activities, including EMTALA, medical liability,  and Medicare payment reform.  Gordon Smith, J.D. of the Maine Medical Association also discussed current issues in Augusta of particular interest to orthopaedic surgeons, focusing particularly on Certificate of Need issues and the hospitals attempt to expand certificate of need regulation to physician offices.

Congratulations to Program Director Garrett R. Martin, M.D. for another successful conference. [return to top]

Maine Society of Otolaryngology Meets at Bethel
The Maine Society of Otolaryngology met this past weekend at the Bethel Inn for its Annual Winter Symposium.  The major speaker was Trevor McGill, M.D. from Children's Hospital in Boston.  Dr. McGill spoke on pediatric otolaryngology: past, present and future, neck masses in children, and vascular anomalies of the head and neck in children; biology and management..  Gordon Smith, J.D. of the Maine Medical Association updated attendees on legislative and regulatory activity in Augusta and Washington.  Poor Medicaid reimbursement was a topic of primary interest.

Congratulations to John Knowles, M.D. and Robert Dixon, M.D. for a successful conference. [return to top]

This Week at the Maine Medical Association
It will be a busy week at the Frank O. Stred Building in Manchester as three committee meetings and several conference calls are conducted.  On Tuesday evening, March 18th, the Association's Ad Hoc Committee on Quality, chaired by MMA President Krishna Bhatta, will meet at 6:00pm to hear from representatives of the Massachusetts Medical Society Committee on Quality.  Not wishing to re-invent the proverbial wheel, committee members thought it would be valuable to learn from our neighbors to the south.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Association's Executive Committee meets for its regularly scheduled meeting.  A full agenda has been prepared and any MMA member may obtain a copy of  the agenda and attached documents by contacting Diane Mcmahon at dmcmahon@mainemed.com.  Following the Executive Committee meeting the Associations's Personnel Committee, chaired by Michael Parker, M.D. will meet.  Members will adjourn just in time to join the weekly conference call conducted by the Legislative Committee, held every Wednesday eveing at 7:00pm.  Any MMA member is invited to participate in these weekly conference calls.  If interested, contact csmith@mainemed.com.

Finally, on Thursday evening, March 20th, the Association's Ad Hoc Committee on Health System Reform, chaired by Maroulla Gleaton, M.D. will meet at 6:00pm.  The Committee is charged with drafting a White Paper on health reform in Maine.

  [return to top]

Androscoggin County Medical Society to Meet March 20th
The Androscoggin County Medical Society will meet on Thursday evening, March 20th at DaVinci's Restaurant in Lewiston.  Speakers will include Buell Miller, M.D. and Gordon Smith, Executive Vice President of MMA, who will address governance issues, including the future of the County Medical Societies in MMA governance.  Dr. Miller will also bring to members' attention several of the new member benefits which have been negotiated through the work of the Committee on Membership and Member Benefits.  For more details, contact Diana Skurski, corresponding secretary at 753-5914. [return to top]

For more information or to contact us directly, please visit www.mainemed.com l ©2003, Maine Medical Association