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Contract fight always an anxious time for patients

Contract battles between hospitals and insurers are often fought right up to the deadline for a deal.

The typical scenario is that during the last month a contract between a health insurers and a health system is in effect, both sides announce publicly that the agreement is about to expire. The pressure builds on the negotiating parties.

Consumers get caught in the middle, fearful that they won’t be able to go to their usual doctors and hospitals.

pieddThese disputes generally get worked out in time, but often mere hours before the old deal expires.

Such a conflict is now occurring, pitting Piedmont Healthcare against insurers Aetna and Coventry. The contract expires at the end of January. full story

An unusual transplant, an unusual donor

Editor’s note: The subject matter of this story may be uncomfortable for some readers. It contains frank details about intestinal illness and treatment.

As he walks into the Emory University School of Medicine lobby, Dr. Ryan McCormick is dressed from head to toe in blue scrubs, medical ID badge swinging, with a bag slung over his shoulder. He looks as if he belongs in an operating room or a trauma bay in the emergency department.

But the second-year pathology resident has been hunkered down in a laboratory for hours at Emory University Hospital looking at histology slides and processing test results.

“We doctors generally go into medicine to cure people, but as pathologists, we don’t have a lot of direct contact with patients.” McCormick said.

In fact, he probably has not seen a patient all day, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t saved lives. This young resident not only diagnoses infections, he plays a direct role in curing them.

Emory University Hospital

Emory University Hospital

McCormick helps treat patients in a most unusual way. Along with three other pathology residents, he donates stool to patients undergoing fecal transplant procedures through the Emory University Intestinal Microbiota Program.

Fecal transplants are most commonly used to treat Clostridium difficile, also known as C. diff. The potentially life-threatening bacterial infection is often acquired in health care settings. People with suppressed immune systems are especially vulnerable. full story

Medical malpractice bill faces long odds

State Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) faces an uphill climb in his effort to revamp the medical malpractice system in Georgia.

iStock_000023217379LargeBeach has been pushing his malpractice reform bill for two years, but experts say SB 141 is not likely to pass in 2014.

House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) told the Atlanta Business Chronicle there is not enough time to consider the legislation during this year’s abbreviated session of the Georgia General Assembly. The session will end early because party primaries will be held in May — two months earlier than in recent election years.

Beach, the primary sponsor of the tort reform bill, also learned Monday, the opening day of the 2014 session, that the Senate Health and Human Services Committee is not ready to take a vote on moving SB 141 out of committee.

At a hearing on the eighth iteration of the bill, Chairwoman Renee Unterman (R-Buford ) said there were still many questions about the bill. Among concerns raised by committee members Monday was elimination of what is viewed as a constitutional right to litigate medical malpractice claims. full story

New laws on health? Probably not many this year

A safe prediction for the upcoming session of the Georgia General Assembly is that dozens of bills involving health care will be up for consideration. That’s the case every year under the Gold Dome.

Photo of the Georgia Capitol BuildingBut given the likelihood this year of a short session, ending in mid-March, it’s also a good bet that many health bills will be sidetracked or stalled before they come to a vote.

Some important issues will certainly be debated. And experts say proposals related to medical malpractice reform, state health care regulation and Obamacare are expected to gain traction, or at least draw plenty of attention, in the session that begins next week.

Still, health care is not likely to dominate the agenda as it did last year, when the hospital provider fee took up a lot of legislative oxygen during the first weeks of the 2013 session.

Here’s a roundup of some of the important legislative issues in health care: full story

Doctor shortage remains acute in rural areas

Georgia’s physician shortage continues to limit patients’ access to care, especially in rural areas, a recently released report indicates.

But the report by the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce also highlights some promising trends on doctors practicing in Georgia.


The state ranked 39th in the ratio of doctors per 100,000 population in 2010, the latest year for which data are available. That’s a slight improvement from Georgia’s 40th-place ranking in 2008.

The report, for the first time, also tracked the distribution and number of physician assistants (PAs) in Georgia. PAs are not physicians but are qualified to perform many of the duties that doctors routinely handle.

The doctor shortage is most critical in primary care/core specialties,  which the Georgia board defines as family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN and general surgery.

And the primary care gaps are more critical in rural counties and some inner-city areas, said Cherri Tucker, executive director of the Board for Physician Workforce, which has been producing such reports since 1986. full story

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