Subscribe to eTOC

GOVERNMENT WATCH

MEDICARE CUTS TO BEGIN JANUARY 1

The AAN is warning members that physician reimbursement for Medicare services will be cut by 4.4 percent on January 1, 2006 and again each year for the next six years until a 26 percent reduction is achieved.

“If Congress does not legislate a fix, and a cut takes place in 2006, we'll start to see physicians, already stretched thin, start to cut down on Medicare patients or opt out of Medicare altogether,” Amy Kaloides, AAN Legislative Policy Administrator, said in an e-mail to Neurology Today.

The cuts are based on a fee schedule that is updated every year by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The fee schedule is calculated using the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula, as stipulated by Medicare law. The SGR takes into account the rate of growth in overall Medicare spending for physicians' services in recent years.

Several laws have been proposed to update the formula by taking into account increases in practice costs, but none have yet made it out of a committee. Ms. Kaloides said the AAN supports H.R. 2356, a bill introduced by Representative E. Clay Shaw (R-FL), and S. 1081, introduced by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). “Fixing the SGR remains as our top federal legislative priority,” she said. So far, 763 members have sent over 2,700 e-mails and faxes to Congress urging a fix to the SGR in 2006, she added.

The Senate budget reconciliation bill, which passed November 3, includes a 1 percent update to Medicare physician payments in 2006. However, the House version of that bill, which passed November 18, does not address Medicare, which means that the decision to include an update to the SGR formula in the final bill will be determined by negotiators from both chambers, Ms. Kaloides said.

SENATE EXAMINES DANGER POSED BY RADICAL ANIMAL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is focusing on a terror campaign by a radical animal rights organization against individuals and companies that support the use of animals in biomedical research. Actions by such eco-terrorism groups have interfered with vital medical research, experts testified in a hearing before the committee in October.

The committee focused on the group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), whose goal is to put an end to the New Jersey-based contract research company Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), also known as Life Science Research, which conducts animal research mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration. During the hearing, John Lewis, Deputy Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said that SHAC tries to intimidate companies affiliated with HLS through violent tactics such as bombings, death threats, vandalism, office invasions, phone blockades, and denial-of-service attacks on computer systems. The group targets employees and their family members. As a result, he said, over 100 companies have severed ties with HLS. Most recently, the New York Stock Exchange refused at the last minute to go through with a listing of HLS because of threats from the animal rights organization, Mark Bibi, Esq., General Counsel of HLS, testified.

Jerry Vlasak, MD, Press Officer for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office and a practicing trauma surgeon, spoke on behalf of SHAC. During questioning, he said he approves of murdering scientists who conduct research on animals if it will save “millions of non-humans lives.” He said in testimony that animal experimentation is unnecessary for medical research.

Jasper R. Daube, MD, Chair of the AAN Task Force on Animals in Research, said violence by animal rights groups is a common problem. “The intimidation and destruction caused by such violent acts makes the conduct of this important research slower, more difficult, and more expensive,” he said in an e-mail to Neurology Today.

Dr. Daube said the AAN supports a bill (S.1926) by committee Chair James Inhofe (R-OK) that would amend current criminal law to allow federal officials to prosecute organizations for threats and acts of force or violence against animal enterprises.