TMA President: Expanding Broadband Access Will Help Patients

Texas Medical Association (TMA) President Diana L. Fite, MD, addressed the Texas Governor’s Broadband Development Council’s recommendations to create a state broadband plan and develop a funding program to support broadband expansion to unserved areas in Texas.



“TMA supports the Texas Governor’s Broadband Development Council’s call for funding and focused planning, prioritizing this initiative that ultimately could help improve the health of all Texans. 

“Our vast state needs sufficient broadband infrastructure to serve the millions of Texans living in the thousands of square miles of rural area currently without sufficient internet access. Texas physicians know this means not only are those patients likely miles away from a physician and health care but also they’re likely disconnected from telemedicine, a particularly important tool during a pandemic.”

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 53,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.

COVID-19 Deadlines for Doctors

Originally published on the Texas Medical Association website.

The following deadlines and extensions are in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through Oct. 23

Several Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program(CHIP) flexibilities, including paying for Texas Health Steps (THSteps) medical checkups via telemedicine and CHIP copay waivers expired. 

Through Oct. 31

Cigna is extending certain cost-share waivers for COVID-19 screening, testing, and treatment, including telehealth screening.

Through Dec. 31

Texas-regulated insurers must continue to pay for telemedicine services, including mental health visits, at the same rate as in-person visits. The extension was part of an emergency rule that was set to expire Sept. 12.

  1. Aetna is extending coverage for commercial telemedicine service, including audio-only visits. Cost share waivers expired Aug. 4.
  2. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas is extending certain cost-sharing and telemedicine waivers for state-regulated, fully insured HMO and PPO members and Medicare members. 
  3. Cigna is extending telemedicine waivers.

To help you understand all of the changes to telemedicine during the pandemic, the Texas Medical Association has published up-to-date information for each type of payer.

Stay up to date with the latest news, resources, and government guidance on the coronavirus outbreak by visiting TMA’s COVID-19 Resource Center regularly.

Join TMA and TCMS for a Legislative Update CME

On Thursday, October 15, at 6pm, Tarrant County Medical Society and Texas Medical Association are presenting “Strengthening Medicine in the 87th Texas Legislature,” a virtual CME that will cover advocacy efforts that protect the practice of medicine and the patient-physician relationship.

The CME will be presented by TMA President Diana Fite, MD, and moderated by former TCMS President Robert Rogers, MD.

Join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89052406596
Meeting ID: 890 5240 6596
Dial In: (346) 248-7799 

To find out more information about the event, contact Meyla Milian-Sanchez at (623) 570-7145 or Brian Swift at (312) 330-4894.

Vote, but Vote Safely, Physicians Urge

Originally published on the Texas Medical Association website.

Early voting starts in Texas this week. Physicians urge all Texans to play it safe as they fulfill their civic duty, reminding everyone that it is possible to vote safely during a pandemic.

“Voting can be made safe by following the public health guidelines,” said Diana L. Fite, MD, president of the Texas Medical Association (TMA). “A little planning goes a long way.”

With the coronavirus still actively spreading in Texas, some elderly patients and Texans with disabilities wonder if it’s safe for them to vote in this year’s election, since they are most at risk for serious illness if they catch COVID-19.

Texans might have two options to vote: an individual might qualify to vote by mail, or he or she may vote in person.

“For those over 65 years old or who have chronic illnesses, it would be preferable to stay at home and send off an application for a mail-in ballot,” said Dr. Fite. “It’s certainly safer for these people to vote at home and mail their ballot than to venture out among crowds.” Any registered voter 65 years or older on Election Day or with a disability may vote early by mail in a Texas election.

The Texas Secretary of State has information and instructions about how to apply to vote by mail. Tip: The voter’s local voting clerk must receive an application for a mail-in ballot by Friday, Oct. 23.

For Texans opting to vote in person, there are options as well.

The early voting period runs Tuesday, Oct. 13 through Friday, Oct. 30. During this period, registered Texans can vote in person at any polling location in their home county. Voters might consider looking online for less-busy polling places and times, to avoid crowds. 

Dr. Fite recommends early voting if possible to avoid any unforeseen problems. “If a person is sick on Election Day, that person should not go out to vote,” said Dr. Fite. “Instead, early voting is a consideration to avoid that possibility from occurring.”   

On Election Day, Nov. 3, voters registered in a county that participates in the Countywide Polling Place Program may vote at any polling location in the county. If someone’s county does not participate in that program, he or she must vote in their own precinct on Election Day.

Whether voting early or on Election Day, physicians urge everyone to plan ahead and practice the same public health best practices as if they were going to the grocery store or anywhere else in public.

“Wash hands or use sanitizer before and after voting, try to stay 6 feet from others, and wear a mask,” said Dr. Fite. Simply maintaining space while waiting in line to vote can help prevent the spread of germs.

Physicians remind everyone of these tips for voting in person:

  1. Stay at least six feet away from others;
  2. Bring your own pen, pencil, or stylus;
  3. Wash or disinfect your hands before and after voting;
  4. Wear a face mask (you might have to remove it briefly for the election judge to confirm your identity); and
  5. Stay home if you’re sick.

TMAis the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 53,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.

More Emergency COVID-19 Funds Becoming Available

By David Doolittle

Originally published on the Texas Medical Association website.

The federal Health and Human Services (HHS) Department will begin accepting applications Monday for a new round of emergency funding for physicians and practices affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new funds – $20 billion – are the third phase of distribution from the Provider Relief Fund, which is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Physicians and practices that already received, rejected, or accepted Provider Relief Fund payments will be eligible to apply for additional money, HHS said.

In addition, physicians who began practicing in between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2020, will be eligible, as well as an expanded group of behavioral health specialists, the agency said.

The window to apply for funds is Monday, Oct. 5, through Friday, Nov. 6. HHS encourages physicians to apply as quickly as possible to “expedite [its] review process and payment calculations.”

Click here to read the full article.

What to Do If a Staff Member or Patient Tests Positive

By Joey Berlin

Originally published on the Texas Medical Association website.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to climb, the greater the chance it will find its way to your office. If it hasn’t happened already, no doubt you’ve been bracing for that possibility for months.

The Texas Medical Association is here to make sure you’re prepared.

The TMA COVID-19 Task Force has created a guide for what to do when someone in your office – whether a staff member or a patient – tests positive for the disease. The guide includes links to important information on disinfection, work-restriction, and legal and ethical resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Texas law, and more.

TMA’s guide explains three steps to take following a positive test:

  1. Follow routine cleaning and disinfection procedures – The guide contains links for recommended environmental control and personal protective equipment (PPE) practices from CDC and EPA.
  2. Notify your staff of the potential exposure, and implement appropriate work restrictions – The document includes an adaptation of CDC’s Healthcare Personnel Assessment Guide, which breaks down how to handle at-risk staff members, plus tips on determining when people with confirmed COVID-19 may have become infectious.
  3. Notify any patients who might have been exposed and recommend appropriate public health guidance – Included is an adaptation of CDC’s Public Health Guidance for Community-Related Exposure chart, as well as links to ethical and legal guidance on patient privacy laws and regulations.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

It’s Time to Assess Your PPE Needs

From the Texas Medical Association

The Texas Medical Association PPE Portal is your tool to inform state-managed warehouses how much personal protective equipment (PPE) your practice needs. 

As long as you need PPE, use this link to the PPE Portal to refresh your data once per week per practice. These data inform distributors about how much PPE you currently have on hand and how much you use each day.

The PPE Portal is available only for licensed Texas physicians (and nursing homes and home health professionals) who are not hospital-based and who cannot obtain PPE through other channels. The PPE Portal is NOT an order form. Because of the limited supplies and uneven distribution of the PPE, there is no guarantee individual practices will get all – or even some – of what they need.

The data you submit to the TMA PPE Portal are sent to the state’s Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) partners and Regional Advisory Councils (RACs). The state purchases PPE throughout the worldwide supply chain. The HPPs and RACs are responsible for distributing it. They ship PPE allocated for physicians within their regions to local county medical societies, who then distribute it to individual physician practices. The PPE you receive from the RAC or HPP through the TMA PPE Portal will be free.

A local county medical society or state warehouse will contact you when and if PPE is ready for you to pick up.

If you are not the person who keeps track of this information for your practice, please share this email (with your personal PPE Portal link above) with the staff member or other physician who will enter it for your practice. Please report PPE usage by all staff who regularly need it to interact with patients, including physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and support staff. Coordinate within your practice to make sure it submits only one response, even if your practice has multiple locations.

For more details, see TMA’s updated PPE Distribution FAQ document and check our PPE Status by County webpage

Insurance Payments for Telemedicine Visits Extended to September

By David Doolittle

Originally published on the Texas Medical Association’s website.

Texas-regulated insurers must continue to pay for telemedicine services, including mental health visits, at the same rate as in-person visits through Sept. 12, the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) said today.

TDI announced it is extending the requirement that was part of an emergency rule that has been in place since March. It was set to expire July 14.

Under the emergency rule, state-regulated health insurers and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) also must:

  1. Cover telemedicine services using any platform permitted by state law; and
  2. Not require more documentation for telemedicine services than they require for in-person services.

To make telemedicine available to more patients and their physicians during the emergency declaration period, many state and federal rules and regulations regarding telehealth, including a waiver for audio-only visits, have been relaxed temporarily.

Click here to read the full article.

COVID-19 Deadlines for Doctors

Originally published on Texas Medical Association’s website.

The following deadlines and extensions are in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aetna is moving its provider portal to Availity (from NaviNet) effective May 31. After that date, you’ll lose access to Aetna on NaviNet, including electronic transactions. Aetna also: 

  1. Has extended coverage for commercial telemedicine service, including audio-only visits, through Aug. 4; and  
  2. Will no longer waive cost sharing for any in-network telemedicine visits for commercial plans starting June 4

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas has extended access to telemedicine/telehealth services with no cost sharing for all medically necessary, covered services and treatments through June 30. That access was set to expire May 31. 

Cigna will extend certain cost-share waivers, including customer cost-sharing for telemedicine screenings for COVID-19, and other benefits through at least July 31.

Several Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program(CHIP) flexibilities, including paying for Texas Health Steps (THSteps) medical checkups via telemedicine and CHIP copay waivers, will be extended through June 30. Payments had been set to expire May 31.

Medicare’s 2020 Quality Payment Program (QPP) registration window is open for the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) web interface reporting method and Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey through June 30.  

Medicare’s 2019 QPP final performance feedback, which includes your overall MIPS score (0-100 point scale) and 2021 Medicare payment adjustment (bonus or cut) worth up to 7%, is expected July 1 via the  QPP portal. Physicians who did not submit any 2019 MIPS data or who filed an application for an exception due to COVID-19 should not receive a 2021 payment cut. 

Find each payer’s effective and expiration dates of waivers on this chart on the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Resource Center.

Sue Bailey, MD, Takes Office as AMA President; “Let Doctors Be Doctors”

By Steve Levine

Originally published on the Texas Medical Association website.

Watch her inaugural address above

Susan Rudd Bailey, MD, is American physicians’ new leader in the battles against COVID-19 and outside interference in patient care. The Fort Worth allergist took the oath of office as president of the American Medical Association on Sunday, becoming the sixth Texas physician to lead the organization.

“After more than 30 years in a small, private practice, I’m a passionate defender of the independent physician and, like the AMA, I’m determined to remove all those obstacles that have come between us and our patients,” Dr. Bailey said in her online installation address, delivered from a Fort Worth video studio.

Dr. Bailey’s organized medicine resume includes stints as presidents of the Texas Medical Association and Tarrant County Medical Society as well as speaker of the TMA and AMA House of Delegates.

“It’s been a joy to watch her negotiate this path,” said Robert Rogers, MD, who has been Dr. Bailey’s partner in Fort Worth Allergy & Asthma Associates for more than 30 years. “I was 100% convinced that she would be president of the AMA. Watching her do this, I know that she had that as a goal. There was nothing in her that said there’s going to be a limit, a ceiling that she couldn’t break through.”

Dr. Bailey said she didn’t have her “eye on that prize” early in her career.

“At that point in time, there had never been a female president,” she said. But Richmond family physician Nancy Dickey, MD, winning the office in 1997 “made all the difference for me. That made it all real for me.”

Texas physician leaders say they are proud of their colleague’s accomplishment and very comfortable with her being the face of American medicine in these difficult times.

Click here to read the rest of the article.