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HHS Secretary Flew Expensive Charter Flights, Report Says


HHS Secretary Tom Price has flown private charter planes and the expenses are adding up fast, with reports of travel costs now in excess of $300,000.

Welcome to Practice Rounds, our weekly column exploring what's being covered in the larger world of healthcare.

HHS Secretary Continues to Fly Private

On Thursday, POLITICO reported that Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price has taken at least 24 flights on private jets since May, at taxpayer's expense.

The total cost of the trips is reported to be in excess of $300,000, and represents a big difference from the previous two HHS secretaries travel habits. Before Price, Obama-era HHS Secretaries, Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius flew commercially, according to the report. HHS officials claim that Price only flies private when no other option if available, while maintaining his trips come out of the HHS budget.

One example POLITICO offered in its report was a trip Price took from Washington to Nashville in June. The publication was able to gather sample round-trip fares for the trip and were able to find tickets for $202.  Price's private flight, according to HHS' contract with Classic Air Charter, cost $17,760.

Many of Price's flights have been to hold lessons on the opioid epidemic as well as for hurricane relief efforts, according to the report.

HHS Hints at Major Changes to Medicare

On Wednesday, federal health officials released an informal proposal hinting at new Medicare pilot programs to be released soon, according to STAT News.

Ideas included allowing doctors to use private contracts to charge Medicare beneficiaries more for certain services and offering incentives to beneficiaries who join private Medicare plans. The proposal did not include formal rules or a timeline.

Many of the proposed changes reflect policies outlined by Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans in the "A Better Way" plan that can be achieved without legislation.

The informal proposals came as part of a larger request for doctors, hospitals, patients to give feedback on how the administration could use an Obama-era policy center to make it easier for the industry to work with Medicare, according to the article.

The policy center, known as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) has the authority to use almost $1 billion annually toward any new program or initiative that agency officials believe will help reduce costs in Medicare.

Hurricane Harvey Affected Medical Appointments

On Monday, EHR vendor, Watertown, Mass.-based athenahealth released a report detailing how medical appointments in Texas and Louisiana were effected and quickly rebounded following Hurricane Harvey.

For the study, athenaResearch looked at appointments pre- and post-Harvey for more than 1,000 athenahealth providers located in the 18 Harvey federal disaster zone counties in the two states.

The study found that appointment volumes the following business day after Harvey's landfall on August 25 saw a drop of 69 percent when compared to pre-Harvey levels. Of the 15,124 patients scheduled for the next business day, August 28, only 4,714 patients were seen.

However, just two weeks later on September 9, 14,072 patients were seen out of an expected 14,892, representing a rebound to expected levels, according to the study.  

Quote of the week:

9 Things to Know Before Switching to DPC

"There is a high potential for peace of mind and to be able to get back to your roots as a doctor, which is a godsend for us now that we have transitioned to direct primary care. We have stopped the overwork and overburdens with the health insurance tightrope that you have to walk every day."

-Robert Habig, MD 

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