U.S. News

Small doctor practices worry about flu impact

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Doctors asked the government on Wednesday to pay them more for giving vaccines and prescribing drugs on the telephone as the flu pandemic hits their communities.

Meanwhile, small bankers said they should get relief from some regulatory requirements during the worst of the pandemic, as they may not have staff to fill out forms and mail out statements.

The H1N1 pandemic is moderate now, and communities and governments have been planning for such a pandemic for years. But doctors, bankers and others told the House Committee on Small Business that they need some regulatory changes to handle it.

They would include better Medicaid payments for giving flu vaccines -- some pediatricians may have to vaccinate some children four times this year -- and looser regulations for backs and credit unions.

A survey released on Wednesday from the Harvard School of Public Health found that while 74 percent of the 1,074 businesses surveyed offer paid sick leave for employees, only 35 percent let workers use that leave to care for family members, and just 21 percent let employees stay home if schools or day-care centers close.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked employers to be more flexible about sick leave as H1N1 worsens, actively encouraging sick workers to stay home and waiving the need for a doctor’s note to excuse an absence.

But just 12 percent of the businesses surveyed said they had changed such policies since swine flu broke out in March.


The CDC recommendations call for patients to confer with doctors by telephone as much as possible, but Dr. James King of the 95,000-member American Academy of Family Physicians told the hearing that doctors are often not paid for this.

Dr. David Tayloe, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said more pediatric practices are seeing patients covered by Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance plan for the poor, due in part to the recession.

“The AAP anticipates that our membership will face a ‘double whammy’ of business interruption due to staff absence and illness combined with much higher workloads from sick children and families seeking vaccination,” Tayloe testified.

“The federal government should recognize the time and resources consumed by vaccine administration and set a payment level of $25 for all public insurance programs, and encourage private payers to follow suit,” Tayloe added.

Currently, state Medicaid programs pay between $2 to $17.85 for giving a shot, he said.

Anthony Demangone of the National Association of Federal Credit Unions said financial regulators had done a good job of helping banks and credit unions plan for a pandemic but said some regulatory requirements should be eased.

“Staff trained to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act may be home sick for long periods of time. Credit unions may need to postpone or cancel mandatory member meetings,” Demangone told the hearing.

“Vendors that supply member statements will also face staffing/supply interruptions. Therefore, regulators might consider easing periodic statement requirements -- let’s not forget that the United States Postal Service and other vendors will be facing high absenteeism as well.”

Editing by Philip Barbara