State Highlights: Fla. Hospices Get Close Scrutiny; Calif. Medi-Cal Provider Rate Bump Delayed

A collection of health policy stories from California, Florida, New York, Massachusetts and Missouri.

Los Angeles Times: Doctors Prescribe Narcotics Too Often For Pain, CDC Chief Says
The nation's top public health official on Tuesday sharply criticized the widespread treatment of aches and pains with narcotics, saying that doctors are prescribing such drugs too soon, too often and for too long -- putting patients at risk of addiction and overdose. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that doctors are relying on these powerful drugs to treat chronic pain when physical therapy, exercise and other remedies would be safer and in many cases more effective (Girion and Glover, 7/2).

Health News Florida: Hospices Under Feds' Microscope
Medicare's huge false-billing lawsuit against Miami-based Vitas Healthcare signals that federal scrutiny of hospices is going strong behind the scenes -- especially in Florida. Federal agents are investigating whether hospices have systematically billed Medicare for patients not eligible for the care  or over-billed for "crisis care" that patients didn't need, industry officials and attorneys say (Lamendola, 7/2).

California Healthline: Primary Care Provider Rate Bump Delayed
A two-year-long federally funded rate hike for Medi-Cal primary care providers was launched in January, but that money has not yet been distributed by state officials and likely will not be paid out until the fall, according to state officials and provider groups. … The rate change, good for 2013 and 2014, elevates Medi-Cal primary care provider rates up to Medicare levels. It's designed to encourage primary care physicians to take on Medi-Cal patients. The next step in the process comes on July 22, according to Norman Williams, deputy director of communications at DHCS, when primary care providers will need to fill out an online provider attestation form (Gorn, 7/2).

Kaiser Health News: Lawmakers To NY Docs: Screen All Baby Boomers For Deadly Liver Disease
Hepatitis C is a life-threatening infection that attacks the liver, but the symptoms often don’t show up for years. So Dr. Alex Federman, an internist at a primary clinic at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, makes sure he urges testing for many patients (Mogul, 7/3).

Boston Globe: 2 More Officials Leave State Medical Board
The state medical board's general counsel has resigned, and its public spokesman was fired Monday, building on two years of turnover at the agency. Special Assistant Russell Aims, the spokesman, was let go after about nine years with the Board of Registration in Medicine, which is charged with licensing and disciplining doctors. General Counsel Brenda Beaton had held her position since 2006. Board chairwoman Dr. Candace Sloane would not comment specifically on the departures, but said "the board is going in the right direction," with changes to staffing and protocol and a revamped physician database, with more public information about those who have been disciplined (Conaboy, 7/2).

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Des Peres Hospital Settles Medicare Fraud Allegations
Des Peres Hospital has agreed to pay a $900,000 penalty to settle allegations that it submitted false claims to Medicare for kyphoplasty procedures, the Justice Department announced Tuesday. The hospital was one of 55 nationwide that agreed recently to settle similar allegations and pay the federal government a total of more than $34 million for allegedly fraudulent billing. It is the only hospital in Missouri implicated in the latest round of settlements (Doyle, 7/2).

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