Posts Tagged legislation

What’s the Future for Physicians without Net Neutrality?

What’s the Future for Physicians without Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality has changed the digital landscape for millions of Americans, specifically physicians and health care professionals, but that could all change on June 11. In December, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the net neutrality rules set in place by the Obama Administration, and on June 11 the repeal of net neutrality is set to take effect. Many professionals are unaware of the positive impact net neutrality has had in areas of the health care profession, such as telemedicine and technology education since it passed in 2015. Despite these technological advancements, many doctors still do not understand net neutrality, or the potential effect the repeal will have on their practice.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the concept that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Verizon, Comcast and Spectrum are required to handle all data equally. Meaning ISPs cannot slow down some websites and speed up others. Net neutrality operates all websites loading at equal speeds and treats all content online fairly. Also, it protects the consumer from paying more money for slower internet speeds. Net neutrality keeps everyone on a level playing field with everyone having the same rights to the equally fast internet, and all websites are available at the same speed and quality.

Life without net neutrality

Without net neutrality, non-profit and educational websites and databases run the risk of being de-prioritized for commercial websites, meaning the importance of educational materials and research is left up to the internet service providers. Allowing ISPs the ability to decide the importance of internet content leaves the potential for the medical and academic community to suffer. Additionally, we can expect slower internet speeds affecting the ability to live-stream, upload and download promptly. Overall, a divide will be created between those who can afford faster internet service and those who are stuck with the slower bandwidth.

What does this mean for physicians? 

For physicians and health care professionals, the repeal of net neutrality could be detrimental. First, professionals run the risk of paying significantly more for high-speed internet capable of downloading, uploading, sending and receiving digital medical records. Also, all the advancements made in telemedicine recently could become stagnant. Despite the recent advancements, the future of telemedicine remains uncertain because even if the doctor can afford the high-speed internet to treat patients, many patients may not be able to afford the high-speed internet capable of live-streaming with their doctor.

Likewise, the education of doctors will be impacted significantly. For medical students, there is potential for an increase in tuition since it will cost more for high-speed internet capable of downloading and uploading medical books and research vital to their education. For doctors, it will become harder to stay up-to-date on the most recent research and studies in their field. Educational and non-profit websites will be overshadowed by commercial websites paying ISPs, making it harder to access scholarly research. Finally, the competition created between commercial websites and educational and non-profit websites will hinder and slow-down research. Overall, net neutrality has created a level playing field on the World Wide Web. It has made possible technological advancements that empower physicians with the education and tools they need to best care for their patients.

How can you make a difference?

On Wednesday, May 17, 2018, the Senate voted to reinstate the net neutrality rules repealed in December. The legislation is currently in the House where it is given little hope of advancing. Contact your district’s representative and express your concerns over the end of net neutrality and the effects it will have on physicians and healthcare professionals.

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What If No One Was On Call…2017 Legislative Review

What If No One Was On Call…2017 Legislative Review

In times of illness, injury and emergency, patients depend on their physicians. But what if no one was on call? Public health would be in jeopardy. However, the same holds true during a legislative session. What would happen if the Medical Association was not on call, advocating for you and your patients at the Alabama Legislature? Keep reading to find out.

Moving Medicine Forward

Patients and their physicians want assurances about not only the quality of care provided, but also its continued availability, accessibility, and affordability. Patients want to make health decisions with their doctors, free from third-party interference. Continued progress toward these objectives requires constant vigilance in the legislative arena, where special interest groups seek to undermine physician autonomy, commoditize medicine and place barriers between physicians, their patients and the care their patients need.

If no one was on call… Alabama wouldn’t be the 20th state to enact Direct Primary Care legislation. DPC puts patients and their doctors back in control of patients’ health and helps the uninsured, the under-insured and those with high-deductible health plans. SB 94 was sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville).

If no one was on call… the Board of Medical Scholarship Awards could have seen its funding slashed but instead, the program retained its funding level of $1.4 million for 2018. The BMSA grants medical school loans to medical students and accepts as payment for the loan that student’s locating to a rural area to practice medicine. The BMSA is a critical tool to recruiting medical students to commit to practice in rural areas. As well, the economic footprint of every physician is at least $1 million, which improves both community health and local economies.

If no one was on call… Medicaid cuts could have been severe, possibly reducing access for patients within an already fragile system in which less than 20 percent of Alabama physicians participate. Due to work done during the 2016 second special session and the 2017 session, sufficient funds were made available for Medicaid without any scheduled cuts to physicians for 2018. Increasing Medicaid reimbursements to Medicare levels – a continued Medical Association priority – could further increase access to care for Medicaid patients.

Beating Back the Lawsuit Industry

Personal injury lawyers are constantly seeking new opportunities to sue doctors. While Alabama’s medical liability laws have fostered fairness in the courtroom and improved the legal climate, each year personal injury attorneys seek to undo parts of the very law that helps keep “jackpot justice” and frivolous suits in check.

If no one was on call… an $80 million tax increase on physicians to fund a new government-administered malpractice claims payout system called the Patients Compensation System could have passed. The PCS would administer damage claims for physical injury and death of patients allegedly sustained at the hands of physicians. Complaints against individual physicians would begin with a call to a state-run 1-800 line and would go before panels composed of trial lawyers, citizens and physicians to determine an outcome. In addition, any determinations of fault would be reported to the National Practitioner Databank. The Patient Compensation System would undo decades of medical tort reforms, which the Medical Association championed and is forced to defend from plaintiff lawyer attacks each session. The PCS deprives both patients and doctors of their legal rights.

If no one was on call… physicians could have been exposed to triple-damage lawsuits for honest Medicaid billing mistakes. The legislation would create new causes of civil action in state court for Medicaid “false claims.” The legislation would incentivize personal injury lawyers to seek out “whistleblowers” in medical clinics, hospitals and the like to pursue civil actions against physicians and others for alleged Medicaid fraud, with damages being tripled the actual loss to Medicaid. The standard in the bill would have allowed even honest billing mistakes to qualify as “Medicaid fraud,” creating new opportunities for lawsuits where honest mistakes could be penalized.

If no one was on call… physicians would have been held liable for the actions or inactions of midwives attending home births. While a lay midwife bill did pass this session establishing a State Board of Midwifery, the bill contains liability protections for physicians and also prohibitions on non-nurse midwives’ scope of practice, the types of pregnancies they may attend, and a requirement for midwives to report outcomes.

If no one was on call… the right to trial by jury, including jury selection and jury size, could have been manipulated in personal injury lawyers’ favor.

If no one was on call… physicians could have been held legally responsible for others’ mistakes, including home caregivers, medical device manufacturers and for individuals following or failing to follow DNR orders.

Protecting Public Health and Access to Quality Care

Every session, various pieces of legislation aimed at improving the health of Alabamians are proposed. At the same time however, many bills are also introduced that endanger public health and safety, like those where the legislature attempts to set standards for medical care, which force physicians and their staffs to adhere to non-medically established criteria, wasting health care dollars, wasting patients’ and physicians’ time and exposing physicians to new liability concerns.

If no one was on call… legislation could have passed to lower biologic pharmaceutical standards in state law below those set by the FDA, withhold critical health information from patients and their doctors, and significantly increase administrative burdens on physicians.

If no one was on call… allergists and other physicians who compound medications within their offices could have been shut down, limiting access to critical care for patients.

If no one was on call… numerous scope of practice expansions that endanger public health could have become law, including removing all physician oversight of clinical nurse specialists; lay midwives seeking allowance of their attending home births without restriction or regulation; podiatrists seeking to amputate, do surgery and administer anesthesia up the distal third of the tibia; and marriage and family therapists seeking to be allowed to diagnose and treat mental disorders as well as removing the prohibition on their prescribing drugs.

If no one was on call… state boards and agencies with no authority over medicine could have been allowed to increase medical practice costs through additional licensing and reporting requirements.

If no one was on call… legislation dictating medical standards and guidelines for treatment of pregnant women, the elderly and terminal patients could have been placed into bills covering various topics.

Other Bills of Interest

Rural physician tax credits… legislation to increase rural physician tax credits and thereby increase access to care for rural Alabamians did not pass but will be reintroduced next session.

Infectious Disease Elimination… legislation to establish infectious disease elimination pilot programs to mitigate the spread of certain diseases failed to garner support on the last legislative day.

Constitutional amendment proclaiming the State of Alabama’s stance on the rights of unborn children… legislation passed to allow Alabamians to vote at the November 2018 General Election whether to add an amendment to the state constitution to:

“Declare and affirm that it is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, most importantly the right to life in all manners and measures appropriate and lawful…”

If ratified by the people in November 2018, this Amendment could have implications for women’s health physicians.

Coverage of autism spectrum disorder therapies… legislation passed to require health plans to cover ASD therapies, with some restrictions.

Portable DNR for minors… legislation establishing a portable DNR for minors to allow minors with terminal diseases to attend school activities failed to garner enough votes to pass on the last legislative day.

If the Medical Association was not on call at the legislature, countless bills expanding doctors’ liability, increasing physician taxes and setting standards of care into law could have passed. At the same time, positive strides in public health — like passage of the direct primary care legislation — would not have occurred. The Medical Association is Alabama physicians’ greatest resource in advocating for the practice of medicine and the patients they serve.

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