Proponents of healthcare quality initiatives are calling on HHS to reverse its decision to shutter an infection-control program under way in intensive-care units at hospitals across Michigan. The program involves a five-step infection-control checklist developed at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. HHS Office for Human Research Protections shut down the program in late 2007, citing violations of patient informed-consent regulations because it classified the checklist as an experimental treatment. Johns Hopkins had planned to expand the program to other states. Karen Linscott, acting chief executive officer of the Leapfrog Group, in a Jan. 2 letter to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, urged the agency to reverse its decision. Michigan hospitals are working with the HHS to get the program restarted, a spokesman for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association said.
The Joint Commission created a task force to address implementation issues and controversies connected to its revised Standard MS.1.20, which was approved this past June and is intended to support and reinforce a productive working relationship between a hospitals staff and governing body. The standard is to take effect in July 2009. The 16-person committee will examine examples and suggest remedies to support the standards objective, according to the Joint Commission, The task force is expected to have a report ready for a Joint Commission board meeting scheduled for Feb. 29 to March 1. The Federation of American Hospitals opposed the final revision of the standard. Task force member Jeffrey Selberg, president and chief executive officer of Exempla Healthcare in Denver, said he is hoping the panel will have a dialogue on the best way for a hospital board, medical staff and medical leadership to collaborate to ensure a commitment to constant quality and safety improvement. Thats an intent we should all have, Selberg said. But is this (standard) the best way to achieve that environment? Is the cure going to be worse than the disease?
Insurance regulators from 35 states and the District of Columbia say they have found numerous deficiencies at HealthMarkets companies, which include MEGA Life and Health Insurance Co., Mid-West National Life Insurance Co. of Tennessee and the Chesapeake Life Insurance Co. Problems were found in five areas: oversight and training of agents, claims processing, handling of consumer complaints, adherence to compliance plans and proper consumer disclosures, according to the 112-page report. The probe was initiated in 2005 by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and led by Washington state and Alaska. HealthMarkets is headquartered in North Richland Hills, Texas. William Gedwed, president and chief executive officer of HealthMarkets, said in a written statement that since 2003, the company has addressed many of the concerns in the report.
A physician proposing to open an imaging center with his brother in an area of Louisiana ravaged by Hurricane Katrina wont be targeted by HHS inspector generals office, even though the plan under ordinary circumstances might run afoul of anti-kickback rules, according to an advisory opinion published Jan. 3. The devastation to healthcare services in the area to be served by the proposed imaging center is well-known, states the advisory opinion signed by Chief Counsel Lewis Morris. The physician predicted that more than a third of the imaging centers patients would be referred from his own practice until other physicians are willing to practice in the community. While the arrangement doesnt fall into any of the anti-kickback statutes safe harbors, the opinion states that paramount among OIGs concerns is that beneficiaries have adequate access to quality healthcare. According to the facts presented to the inspector general by the applicant, whose name is redacted in the published opinion, the only hospital in the parishalso unnamedwas destroyed in the aftermath of the storm and has not reopened.
The federal monitor overseeing the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey has given a clean bill of health to the much-changed institution, saying the monitorship will not be extended. Also, the U.S. attorney in Newark, N.J., will seek dismissal of the criminal complaint filed against the school in December 2005. Though many of the changes are still in process, From the top down, UMDNJ has undergone major personnel, policy and cultural changes, the monitor said. Perhaps most importantly, we believe that UMDNJ can now conduct its business honestly and legally. Still the medical school has challenges going forward, including the transition of 42 investigations of alleged misconduct. In the future, the Newark school must conduct a nationwide search for a new compliance leader and continue to implement reforms in the purchasing and materials management area as well as compliance. In a written statement, UMDNJ officials expressed gratitude for the federal oversight and said, We still have work to do. UMDNJ has been operating under the oversight of a federal monitor since 2005 to avert criminal prosecution for healthcare fraud.
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