The House voted 231-184 to overturn a rule that would have given lawmakers almost free rein to introduce Medicare legislation in such a way that it could have effectively been used to stall the legislative process. Led by House Democrats, the vote essentially stays provisions under the so-called 45% trigger that would have allowed any lawmaker to bring up a billor make amendments to an existing oneunder the guise of Medicare reform. Democratic leaders said they were worried that the special leeway provided under the rule could be used to cause gridlock for the balance of the legislative sessions. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), speaking on the House floor, warned that the trigger provisions would allow anyone to disrupt the proceedings of the House. The Medicare trigger, a relatively small provision in an otherwise massive 2003 Medicare bill, was put into place to prompt Bush administration action when the Medicare program started to spend more than it was taking in. When that happened last year, a funding warning was issued, forcing the White House to offer its own cost-containment legislative package in February. Under terms of the rule, the Senate does not have to vote.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reversed a massive jury award to a Dallas doctor who argued he was defamed by a hospitals peer-review process, rejecting a decision that had stunned providers because federal law protects them from liability in such cases. Judge Patrick Higginbotham, writing for the three-judge panel, wrote that immunity from money damages afforded to participants in peer review requires only a reasonable belief that the action was in the furtherance of quality healthcare, quoting the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986. Lawrence Poliner had persuaded a jury in 2004 that he was wronged by what the trial court judge ruled was summary suspension of his echocardiography and cardiac-catheterization privileges at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas for 29 days while a committee of cardiologists reviewed a sample of his cases. The review was triggered by a procedure in which Poliner conceded in the chart that he missed an arterial blockage. The jury awarded
$360 million, although the judge later reduced the figure to $22.5 million. This case is a matter of principle, not just of business practices, Douglas Hawthorne, president and chief executive officer of Presbyterian parent Texas Health Resources, said in a written statement.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced his intent to introduce a bill that would require referring physicians to discloseat the time of referraltheir ownership interest in an imaging service and to offer Medicare beneficiaries a list of alternative providers, with the goal of limiting physicians financial incentives to order imaging services. Grassley said the legislation would be based on recommendations from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, and cited a Government Accountability Office report that Medicare Part B spending on imaging services more than doubled between 2000 and 2006 to about $14.1 billion. (See related editorial, p. 31).
Richard de Filippi, managing partner of the consulting group Ariano Partnership, in Cambridge, Mass., was elected by the American Hospital Associations board of trustees as its chairman-elect designate. De Filippi, an AHA trustee and former chairman of the board of the Cambridge (Mass.) Health Alliance, an academic medical center, will become chairman-elect on Jan. 1, 2009, and assume the chairmanship in 2010, the AHA announced. He will succeed Thomas Priselac, the AHAs current board chairman-elect and president and chief executive officer of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles. In addition, the AHA named eight new members to its board of trustees, for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2009, and ending Dec. 31, 2011.
GE Healthcare, Chalfont St. Giles, U.K., agreed to acquire Vital Signs, Totowa, N.J., for $860 million in cash, or $74.50 per share. Vital Signs designs and manufactures anesthesia, respiratory and critical-care products and reported income of $23.5 million on revenue of
$205.3 million in 2007, which ended
Sept. 30. The deal, which must win approval from Vital Signs shareholders and regulators, is expected to close by Dec. 31. Vital Signs will join GE Healthcares clinical systems division. The U.S. accounts for roughly three-quarters of Vital Signs single-use product sales, he said.
The U.S. Energy Department launched its EnergySmart Hospitals initiative, which aims to improve energy efficiency in existing hospitals by 20% and by 30% in new construction. Other goals of the program include increasing the use of renewable energy applications and ensuring reliable backup power during disasters. The Energy Department estimates the annual power bill for the nations 8,000 hospitals equals more than $5 billion.
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