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August 2, 2005


August 2, 2005


Tobacco Control Groups Granted Intervener Status in DOJ Tobacco Case

In July, Judge Kessler, the judge presiding over the Department of Justice case against the tobacco industry, granted the petition of the American Lung Association (ALA) and five other public health organizations to “intervene� in the case. By entering as an intervening party, the ALA is granted the right to enter motions in the case and respond to motions filed by the tobacco industry. This improves the legal standing of the public health and physician communities to ensure that remedies to reduce tobacco initiation and to increase tobacco cessation are considered during the court’s deliberation.
In the written statement of her decision, Judge Kessler wrote:  "In a case of this magnitude, which could potentially affect the health and welfare of the American public, as well as the American economy (given our enormous annual expenditures on health care), it will serve the public interest for major public health organizations, such as Intervenors, who have long experience with smoking and health issues, to contribute their perspectives on what appropriate and legally permissible remedies may be imposed should liability be found."  


Legislation Introduced Fixes SGR – Links Payments to Quality

Last week, Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) introduced legislation to correct the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula used to calculate the annual Medicare updates for physician payments.  As you may recall, the current SGR formula is flawed and absent congressional intervention will lead to a 4.3% cut in Medicare payments to physicians in 2006 with similar level of continued cuts in 2007-2009.
The legislation introduced by Rep. Nancy Johnson replaces the current SGR system and stabilizes the annual Medicare payments updates to physicians. The legislation also phases payments linked to performance reporting and improvement.  Under the legislation, starting in 2007, physicians would receive additional payments for reporting data on quality measures.  Starting 2009, physicians would receive additional Medicare payments for meeting quality improvement targets associated with the reported data. 
The legislation introduced by Rep. Nancy Johnson is supported by the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians and several other physician groups.

House Passes Medical Liability Reform Legislation

Last week, the House of Representatives passed legislation, H.R. 5, that reforms the current medical liability system.  The bill continues to allow unlimited economic damages, but places a $250,000 cap on non-economic or pain and suffering damages.  The legislation is supported by the medical community and is hoped that it will address the skyrocketing medical liability insurance premiums.
In recent years, the House of Representatives has passed similar legislation, only to have it die in the Senate.  Attention now to turns to the Senate where the medical community hopes to garner enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate.

Congress Passes Error Reporting Legislation

In July, the House and Senate passed legislation creating a voluntary and confidential system for reporting medical errors.  The intent of the legislation is to create a voluntary system to collect medical error database for research on how to reduce errors in the U.S. health care system. 
The legislation creates Patient Safety Organizations to collect analyze and report on medical error trends and encourage research to reduce medical errors.  Data submitted to the Patient Safety Organizations would remain confidential and are not subject to subpoena, discovery or disclosure in civil or criminal cases.  However, the legislation does grant the court authority to disclose information from the Patient Safety Organization in a criminal case if the data show criminal activity that cannot be shown from any other information source.


Senate Delays Stem Cell Vote – Sen. Frist Alters His Position

Citing the need to fully debate the various stem cell research bills in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R–TN) announced the delay of voting for stem cell research legislation.  The Senate was slated to vote on seven separate bills regarding stem cell research.  The vote will now likely take place by mid September.
In related news, Senator Frist has stated that he now supports lifting the ban for stem cell research.   A one time opponent of using federal funding for stem cell research, Frist said, “I believe the president's policy should be modified. We should expand federal funding ... and current guidelines governing stem cell research, carefully and thoughtfully, staying within ethical bounds.�  
Frist’s statement of support for expanding federal support for stem cell research may significantly alter the prospects for Senate passage of stem cell legislation.  However, President Bush has reiterated this threat to vote legislation for expanded federal support for stem cell research.


Senator Clinton Introduces Asthma Legislation

On July 26, Senators Hillary R. Clinton (D-NY) and Mike DeWine (R-OH) introduced the Family Asthma Act of 2005 to establish pilot projects to improve asthma management and increase our knowledge of the environmental and genetic links to asthma. 
The legislation would direct the government’s asthma coordinating body to review and make recommendations for future directions in research and interventions, increase funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s educational and surveillance efforts, and establish a fellowship program to train healthcare providers about the links between the environment and asthma.
The ATS Washington office thanks the members of the ATS Research Advocacy Committee who reviewed and provided comments to Senator Clinton’s office about the bill before it was officially introduced.

Points of Contact

Gary Ewart Senior Director, Government Relations
Nuala Moore Senior Legislative Representative
Joe Kirby DC Office Administrator