A White House-supported bill with potential caps on Medicare and Medicaid spending was defeated in the House by a 268-146 vote. The bill, introduced by Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), would have required Medicare and Medicaid improvements to be offset by spending cuts either within the programs themselves or within other federal programs. Meanwhile, a coalition of 11 organizations including the American Hospital Association and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing asked the House and Senate appropriations committees to increase funding for nursing workforce development by $63 million over fiscal 2004 funding, bringing fiscal 2005 funding for such programs to $205 million. According to the AACN, nursing schools turned away about 16,000 qualified applicants in 2003 because of insufficient capacity.
CMS outlines drug demo project
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson released details of a CMS demonstration program to provide drug coverage for 50,000 Medicare beneficiaries. The demonstration project is open to Medicare patients with serious illnesses and disabilities including various cancers, multiple sclerosis, pulmonary hypertension and rheumatoid arthritis before the drug benefit is extended to the entire Medicare population, roughly 41 million people, in 2006. The program, mandated by the 2003 Medicare law, will cover certain drugs that patients administer at home, replacing drugs given at a physician's office and currently covered under Medicare Part B. Congress earmarked $500 million for the program, $200 million of which will go for oral cancer drugs that patients can self-administer to replace those given by injection in a physician's office. The American Cancer Society said that 25,000 cancer patients would benefit.
Beth Israel pays settlement
Beth Israel Medical Center in New York agreed to pay at least $58 million to Medicare and Medicaid to settle charges that it improperly billed the programs from 1995 to 2000, according to Crain's New York Business, a sister publication of Modern Healthcare. The hospital, part of Continuum Health Partners, also faces possible criminal charges. Beth Israel declined to comment. The settlement could be a setback in a recent financial recovery at the hospital, which operates 1,250 beds on two campuses. In 2001 Beth Israel signed a compliance order with HHS' inspector general's office, agreeing to set up a whistle-blower hot line to receive anonymous reporting of any Medicare wrongdoing.
Halifax-Fish alliance dissolves
Halifax Hospital Medical Center, Daytona Beach, Fla., said it will dissolve a seven-year partnership with the South Volusia Hospital District because after 41/2 years of negotiation, the two public hospital districts have not agreed to centralize management. The partnership, known as Halifax-Fish Community Health, oversaw services such as human resources, purchasing, security and marketing for South Volusia's 116-bed Bert Fish Medical Center in New Smyrna Beach, and 487-bed Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach.
Methodist, Weill partner
Methodist Hospital, Houston, rebounding from the April breakup of its 50-year relationship with Baylor College of Medicine, announced a 30-year affiliation with Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Antonio Gotto, dean of the New York medical college, said Methodist physicians can opt to have faculty appointments at Weill Cornell. Gotto was chairman of Baylor's internal medicine department and chief of internal medicine at Methodist from 1977 to 1996.
Detroit-area health authority OK'd
Wayne County, Mich., commissioners approved the creation of a regional healthcare authority to coordinate services for the area's estimated 700,000 uninsured patients. The Detroit City Council approved the authority earlier this month. Healthcare officials and local and state governments have been working since April 2003 to determine the future of indigent care in southeast Michigan and address a financial crisis at 10-hospital Detroit Medical Center, the region's largest health system. DMC, which has lost more than $500 million over the past six years, has blamed some of its financial troubles on a heavy indigent-care burden. Final approval of the Detroit-Wayne County Health Authority preceded a July 1 deadline to apply for $500,000 in federal funds earmarked for the authority. State officials endorsed creation of the authority in December 2003. Officials began exploring alternatives for indigent care after DMC last year said it would have no choice but to close two hospitals without additional public money.
HIP will buy ConnectiCare
HIP Health Plan of New York agreed to acquire ConnectiCare, Farmington, Conn., in a deal that would create a multistate insurer with 1.2 million members and 3,000 employees. The purchase price was not disclosed, but HIP said ConnectiCare's $90 million debt would be paid off, boosting ConnectiCare's balance sheet after a ratings downgrade last year. Privately held ConnectiCare covers 270,000 people in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Not-for-profit HIP is the largest HMO in metropolitan New York. It is expected to try to convert to a publicly traded company under pending New York legislation that would clear the way for any insurer to convert to for-profit status.
Tenet reaches S.C. charge pact
Piedmont Healthcare System, Rock Hill, S.C., a hospital owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp., has reached an agreement with York County, S.C., on hospital gross charges that clarifies Piedmont's duties under the original sale terms of the hospital to Tenet. Piedmont is prohibited from having the highest average gross charges among a group of 10 hospitals, including itself, as measured by charge data reported to South Carolina regulators. The new agreement clarifies confusing aspects of the contract between Tenet and York County and makes clear how Piedmont must respond when its charges are the highest among the peer group, Tenet spokesman Steven Campanini said.