Governors Call for Medicaid Reform: Struggling to address Medicaid shortfalls that have reached crisis proportions, the House Energy and Commerce Committee March 12 heard testimony from three governors: Jeb Bush, R-Fla.; John Rowland, R-Conn.; and Bill Richardson, D-N.M.

Currently on the table is a proposal from the Bush administration, which would provide states with more flexibility to make Medicaid coverage decisions. Short term, the proposal would offer extra cash to states that chose the more-flexible plan but would cap federal outlays after seven years. While Governors Bush and Rowland generally supported the administration's proposal, Bush expressed concerns about whether the proposal would recognize population growth. By contrast, Governor Richardson said the administration's plan shirks federal responsibility.

Bush Medicare Plan Could Narrow HME Playing Field, AAHomecare Says: In a March 3 report, The White House explained its plan for Medicare reform. The plan would offer three coverage options to beneficiaries: the traditional fee-for service plan, with a drug card estimated to achieve savings of 10 to 25 percent; a preferred-provider-type plan that would include prescription drug benefits, preventive benefits and protection against high out-of-pocket drug costs; and a managed-care plan that would add a prescription drug benefit and look somewhat like the Medicare+Choice plans currently available.

If the prescription drug benefit succeeded in luring a large percentage of beneficiaries away from fee-for-service, the shift could narrow the playing field for home medical equipment providers, according to Ann Howard, director of federal policy at the Alexandria, Va.-based American Association for Homecare.


Medicare Has Curbed Costs Better Than Private Insurers, Study Finds: Researchers at the Washington-based Urban Institute — a nonpartisan organization that studies economic and social policy — last month published a report that shows Medicare has done a better job than have private insurers at curbing health care costs, during the past three decades. The report, which appeared March 11 in the journal Health Affairs, attributed these findings to Medicare's ability to price aggressively for the services it covers.


Accreditation Organizations Target HIPAA Compliance: The Washington-based accreditation organization URAC March 10 issued draft standards for security accreditation under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, soliciting comments through April 9. Garry Carneal, URAC's president and chief executive officer, said the accreditation program is relevant to all health care organizations, including covered entities and business associates.

Later in the month, the Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and the Washington-based National Committee for Quality Assurance announced intentions to collaborate on a HIPAA accreditation program for “business associates.” The planned program — which JCAHO and NCQA expect to release mid May — would evaluate the companies that handle “protected health information” when providing goods and services to health care providers.

U.S. Life Expectancy Increases: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports life expectancy for Americans hit an all-time high — 77.2 years — in 2001, increasing for men and women, whites and blacks. The annual mortality report from HHS' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “highlights some encouraging progress, including a continued reduction in death rates from the nation's three leading killers — heart disease, cancer and stroke,” said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson.

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