March 31, 2003

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Senator Feinstein Withdraws Tort Bill
California Senator Diane Feinstein (D) put her highly anticipated professional liability bill in abeyance last week, citing opposition from her own physician-constituents in California.
On March 26th, Sen. Feinstein announced that her proposal to cap non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases at $500,000 will be held in abeyance until such time as a compromise bill capable of receiving 60 votes can be developed.

Both the American Medical Association and the California Medical Association expressed reservations about the amount of the proposed cap, preferring the $250,000 cap currently in existence in California.  CMA is concerned that passage of a higher non-economic cap on a federal level will put further pressure on California legislators to raise the state cap.

Despite the Senator's decision, Senate Majority leader and physician William Frist still is pushing for a Senate vote on federal medical liability reforms in April, perhaps following the April recess, which occurs in mid-April.

Governor's Health Action Team Completes Initial Tasks, Tackles Certificate of Need
Governor Baldacci's Health Action Team met on Friday, March 28th for the last time to receive committee reports and consider further elements in the Governor's health agenda.  The HAT's subcommittee's are:

  • Benefits Package;
  • Cross-cutting Issues;
  • Low Income Access and Financing;
  • Public Purchasing;
  • Quality and Accountability; and
  • Cost Containment

Much of the recent discussion has focused on health planning and the current Certificate of Need program.  Members of the HAT Subcommittee on Cost Containment, Planning and Regulation, chaired by the MMA's HAT representative, Maroulla Gleaton, M.D., have expressed concern that the existing CON program is relatively ineffective in controlling the diffusion of technology and the proliferation of capital expenditures.  The Subcommittee has recommended strengthening the CON program and relocating the decision-making to an independent organization, rather than the DHS Commissioner.

Of particular concern to the Maine Medical Association is a Subcommittee recommendation that a new CON program apply to investments outside the hospital setting, including a physician's office.  While it is too early to know exactly how such a proposal would work, MMA has expressed strong opposition to expanding CON to encompass facilities and equipment in a physician's office that has always been exempt.

Including such facilities under CON, thereby allowing hospitals to oppose and potentially prohibit such facilities competing with hospitals, will further expand hospital monopolies and restrict choices that patients want and should have available.  Competition might also lower cost and price.

While the hospital industry argues for a "level playing field," MMA believes that a regulatory environment in which physicians are expected to match hospital resources in the planning, legal and charity area is a gross mismatch in terms of resources.  The CON track record has not been a positive one for physicians when hospitals have opposed the granting of a CON to a physician.  MMA will keep members posted on developments in this important area.

The MMA and other observers have been amazed and somewhat alarmed at the pace of the HAT process that may result in major changes to the State's health care system.  There's still insufficient detail abou the Governor's plan to determine an appropriate position for the MMA.  We anxiously await OHPF Director Trish Kiley's narrative and will brief you as soon as we know more. [return to top]

Nearly 100 Attendees Work on HIPAA
The Association's 7th HIPAA Education Seminar, held in Waterville on March 26th, drew nearly one hundred attendees.  Physicians, practice managers and other staff heard presentations from Gordon Smith, Esq. (HIPAA Privacy), John Coolong (Transactions and Code Sets), Jeffrey Bardin (Security), and Carol Male (Practical Implementation).

John and Carol are with Baker Newman Noyes and Jeff is with Treadstone 71.  Vendors present included Standard Register and xwave Technology.

The Privacy Rule becomes enforceable on April 14th, 2003.  The next MMA HIPAA program will be held April 10th in Ellsworth.  For more information, contact Susan Feener at 622-3374 or [return to top]

Somerset County Medical Society Talks about Governance
The Somerset County Medical Society met in Skowhegan on March 25th.  President Vicent Sy welcomed a dozen members and guests.  The business meeting featured a discussion with MMA Executive Vice President Gordon Smith on MMA governance and the role of County Medical Societies.

MMA Executive Committee members Kevin Flanigan, M.D., and John Garofalo, M.D. updated members on the discussion within the MMA Executive Committee on governance.   As the County Medical Societies have become less active, the Executive Committee has considered various alternatives to the current practice of each County Medical Society nominating members to the MMA Executive Committee.  It is expected that appropriate bylaw amendments will be prepared for consideration by members at the Annual Session in September.  One alternative being considered is a mail ballot sent to all MMA members in the county. [return to top]

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