The House passed a bill that makes it illegal for employers and insurers to deny coverage to a person based on their genetic makeup. The legislation, called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, passed on a 414-1 vote and now goes to President Bush, who is expected to sign it into law. The sole vote against the bill came from erstwhile presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). The Senate previously passed the bill on a 95-0 vote. At the outset, federal lawmakers and scientists lauded the bill, saying it would allow individuals to take fuller advantage of preventive healthcare programs and participate in medical trials without the fear that their genetic test results would make it impossible to obtain or keep their health coverage. The legislation received the backing of the health insurance industry.
Critics charge that a proposed change to the way Medicare pays for nursing home and skilled-nursing care will result in a $5 billion loss over the next five years and leave many elderly patients with fewer provider options. The American Health Care Association and the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care said that they are alarmed by the trimmed-back payments Medicare is calling for and have asked members of Congress to help with their fight. The CMS said it plans to trim $770 millionor about 3.3%in overall payments to skilled-nursing facilities in fiscal 2009, but would help the industry absorb those losses with a 3.1% inflationary update. As a result, nursing homes will absorb a cut of $60 million this year and next, according to a proposed rule released by the CMS. AHCA President and Chief Executive Officer Bruce Yarwood said in a written statement that the CMS proposal gives with one hand and takes away with another. Under the proposed rule, the CMS said it would rework the case-mix weights as a way to better align payments with the right procedures. A public comment period ends June 30.
The CMS published a final rule that establishes the 2009 federal payment rate for long-term acute-care hospitals, a measure the agency said will save money for the Medicare program in the future. For the rate year July 1, 2008, through Sept. 30, 2009, the standard federal payment rate for the nations nearly 400 long-term acute-care hospitals will be $39,114 per patient. That represents a 2.7% increase from 2008, according to the CMS, which said aggregate payments for long-term acute-care hospitals in 2009 are estimated to be about $4.7 billion, or about $110 million more than payments in 2008. The final rule provides incentives to (LTACs) to continue to provide compassionate, efficient care to some of Medicares most severely ill patients, while helping to preserve the solvency of the Medicare hospital trust fund for future generations, acting CMS Administrator Kerry Weems said in a news release. Long-term acute-care hospitals are those that have patients who have inpatient stays which are typically longer than 25 days.
Health savings accounts are used more as a tax shelter for the wealthy than as a path to health benefits for working- and middle-class families, according to a Government Accountability Office report released by two Democratic members of Congress from California. The average adjusted gross income for people with HSAs was $139,000, according to the report. Total contributions to these accounts in 2005 equaled twice that of withdrawals$754 million compared with $366 million, respectively. Between 2004when HSAs were first offeredand 2007, participation grew from 438,000 to 4.5 million accounts, the GAO found. The report comes on the heels of a Kaiser Family Foundation study last month indicating that most uninsured households dont have the assets to cover costs associated with HSAs and other consumer-driven health plans. More than 6.1 million Americans are covered by HSA-eligible insurance plans, a 35% increase over last year, Americas Health Insurance Plans, the trade association for insurers, said in a separate announcement.
A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted a former administrative specialist at UCLA Medical Center for allegedly disclosing health records of celebrity patients to an unnamed national media outlet in exchange for money, according to the U.S. attorneys office. Lawanda Jackson was indicted for criminal violation of privacy protections in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 for allegedly disclosing health records of celebrity patients at the Los Angeles hospital and receiving payments of at least $4,600 in the form of checks written to her husband in 2006 and 2007, according to the indictment. If convicted, Jackson faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to a news statement from the office of U.S. Attorney Thomas OBrien. We are deeply troubled about the allegations in the indictment, said David Feinberg, chief executive officer and interim vice chancellor of UCLA Hospital System, in a prepared statement. We continue to take steps to improve our staff training and information systems to further strengthen the confidentiality of patient records, he said.
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