Update

April 4, 2008

Practice and financial news you can use

TORT REFORM

AMA study: Caps are working

Limiting awards for patients' pain and suffering is helping to lower claims payouts-and, in turn, reducing physicians' malpractice premiums-in states that have enacted tort reform, according to a recent analysis by the AMA. Among the findings:

While the AMA report is encouraging to physicians overall, doctors in several states are still paying huge sums for malpractice insurance. The AMA favors state reforms as well as a $250,000 noneconomic damage cap at the federal level, reports AMNews.

TAXES

Stimulus rebates on their way soon

Your bank account may be fatter in the coming months, thanks to the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. Beginning in early May, taxpayers who filed a federal return will automatically receive a stimulus rebate, sent to the direct deposit account indicated on the return. The IRS says the direct deposit option is the fastest way to get your regular refund and the special refund.

CREDENTIALING

Is your colleague who he claims to be?

About one in nine US doctors has a credentialing problem, ranging from an inactive or suspended license to loss of privileges or a state board sanction, according to a recent study from Medversant Technologies, a provider of Web-based healthcare practitioner management applications. The study examined the credentials of nearly 9,600 physicians, nurses, and ancillary personnel practicing in 24 health plans, hospitals, and surgery centers that use Medversant to monitor the backgrounds of providers. The study included 7,318 MDs and DOs, a distressing 5.7 percent of whom were found to be practicing with an expired license.

So how do you protect yourself if you're in charge of checking credentials for your group members, or you want to be sure your referral sources are on the up and up? You can hire a company like Medversant, or MD Nationwide, which charges $19.95 per physician report. The AMA also provides credentialing information through its Physician Profile Service. Or, you can check with your hospital's credentialing department, your state licensing board, or both.

RETIREMENT

Green light for 401(k) participants

A recent Supreme Court decision has opened the gates for 401(k) participants to sue their plan administrators for negligence. Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, individuals enrolled in retirement plans were generally barred from recovering losses due to a breach of fiduciary duty-until now. The case in question involved a Texas man who, in 2001 and 2002, directed his former employer (which also served as the plan administrator) to make certain changes to the investments in his account. The company's failure to do so "depleted" the employee's interest in the plan by about $150,000, he argued. It wasn't clear whether that amount represented actual losses or missed opportunities from his employer's inaction.

The case is important, say some pension experts, because it may encourage employees to sue for infractions less serious than flat-out negligence. That, in turn, could cause smaller employers-including physicians' practices-to shy away from offering 401(k) plans to their staff.