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News you can use

Feds to get tough on tax cheats

More than 21,000 physicians, health professionals, and suppliers who receive Medicare Part B reimbursements are delinquent in paying more than $1 billion in federal taxes, says a study by the Government Accountability Office. About 5 percent of the health professionals who participate in Part B failed to pay their federal income and payroll taxes during the first nine months of 2005. Some doctors withheld payroll taxes from their employees, but failed to forward the money to the IRS. A few of these delinquent doctors even bought multimillion-dollar homes and luxury cars. Failing to remit payroll taxes is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

HHS doesn't prohibit health professionals who owe back taxes from participating in Medicare. However, the IRS says it's working with HHS to set up a process to seize Medicare payments issued directly to delinquent doctors, although payments made to a physician's LLC or professional corporation couldn't be collected as easily, if at all.

Scout out companies making paybacks

Annual estimated dividends from companies listed on the S&P 500 should increase by 12 percent this year to a record $27.85 per share, says Standard and Poor's. That's up from $24.88 in 2006. More than three-quarters of S&P 500 companies pay dividends, compared to 40 percent for companies not listed on the well-known index.

More tools for green investors

Standard & Poor's has launched three new indices that track companies from around the world that are involved in clean energy, water, and infrastructure. The Global Clean Energy Index tracks 30 companies involved in producing clean energy or related equipment. The Global Water Index covers 50 companies in water-related businesses. The Global Infrastructure Index comprises 75 utility, energy, and transportation companies. The three indices cover the largest publicly listed companies that meet selection criteria for size and liquidity. For the names of the companies and to track the indices, go to www.standardand poors.com/indices (click on Equity Indices, then on S&P Global Indices).

Scaling the language barrier

A newly formed task force is calling on healthcare professionals to help create a certification program for medical interpreters. The National Medical Interpreter Certification Task Force will meet on May 1 in Boston to discuss how to best govern the quality of language services in hospitals and other health-care institutions. In the absence of national standards for medical interpreters, hospitals have dealt with foreign-speaking patients in different ways, with varying amounts of success.

Miscommunications between healthcare providers and patients who don't speak English well can lead to misdiagnosis and improper medical treatment. For more information, go to the website for the Massachusetts Medical Interpreters Association at www.mmia.org.

Wrongful pill-popping on the rise

Emergency department visits related to the misuse of prescription and OTC drugs went up by 21 percent from 2004 to 2005, says a new report published by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Of the 1.4 million ED visits associated with drug misuse in 2005, 27 percent involved pharmaceuticals alone and 36 percent involved pharmaceuticals in combination with alcohol and/or illegal drugs. The remaining visits were related to illegal drugs only.

Among the most frequently misused drugs in the study were antianxiety drugs (up 19 percent), prescription pain relievers (up 24 percent), and methadone (up 29 percent).

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