Health IT

Morning Read: Maybe those small-business tax credits aren’t so popular

Highlights of the important and the interesting from the world of healthcare: Maybe those small-business tax credits aren’t so popular after all: Or at least that’s what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business want you to believe. The groups say the tax credits won’t do much to help small business […]

Highlights of the important and the interesting from the world of healthcare:

Maybe those small-business tax credits aren’t so popular after all: Or at least that’s what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business want you to believe. The groups say the tax credits won’t do much to help small business afford health insurance. The tax credits are available in full (equal to 35 percent of what a firm spends on health-insurance premiums) to companies with 10 or fewer employees and that have average salaries of $25,000 or less. Also, reduced credits are available to firms with 25 or fewer employees and with average salaries less than $50,000. The groups complain that the tax credits are available for only six years, and that the real problem is rapidly rising health costs that will likely persist far longer than six years.

There’s no doubt that reform could and should do more to control costs in the long run, but is it realistic to think that the law won’t help small businesses much? First, consider the sources of that information. Both the Chamber and National Federation opposed reform. The Chamber for one, spent $70 million  to $100 million in TV ads against reform in 2009, and $124 million last year lobbying the federal government–with much of that total no doubt dedicated to defeating reform. It’d be very awkward for the Chamber to come back to its members and say, “We spent hundreds of millions to defeat this law, but now that we’ve failed, we’ve decided it really isn’t that bad.” So the Chamber basically backed itself into a position of complaining about the effects of reform, no matter what the outcome.

More realistic is the stance of an auto body shop owner in Oregon, who told Kaiser Health News that the tax credits would save his 13-employee company $15,000 a year, some of which he’d use to give employees raises. Or consider this quote from the founder of the Small Business Majority: “I never met a small business owner who turned their nose up at six years of small-business tax credits.” That seems about right.

A warning about “regional extension centers”: Anyone who’s been following the federal government’s push to get electronic medical records into the hands of the nation’s doctors has likely encountered the phrase “regional extension centers” and cocked an eyebrow. These centers are charged with helping small private practice docs choose, implement and train staff on EMRs, but how would they work?  A new study in Health Affairs provides the answer: “Probably not too well.”

The study says that the centers will likely be too understaffed and underfunded to provide the help physicians need, American Medial News reports. Further, consultants staffing the centers should have not only technical skills, but should be experienced in working with small practices, software implementation and workflow adjustment. Suffice it to say, such people are hard to find, and that could be the primary reason these centers will struggle to fulfill their mission. Unfortunately, extension centers look to be shaping up as wonderful fodder for the “government-can’t-do-anything-right” crowd:

Study authors also questioned the sustainability of regional extension centers due to inadequate funding. Similar projects in Massachusetts and New York spent approximately $60,000 to $80,000 per targeted physician. Proposed federal funding of regional extension centers made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 averages to about $6,400 per targeted physician.

Five minutes for colon cancer: A study by British researchers has found that a five-minute colon cancer test could cut the number of deaths from the disease by 40 percent. The researchers followed more than 170,000 people for about 11 years. Of those, more than 40,000 had a “flexi-scope” test, an exam that removes polyps, small growths that could become cancerous, the AP reports. The problem with colon cancer tests, though, is that they’re not too pleasant to experience or for that matter, visualize. The test involves having a pen-sized tube inserted into the colon to check for polyps. Nonetheless, if the researchers’ results can be replicated, then this “cheap and easy” test would be well worth a few awkward moments for at-risk patients.

Photo from flickr user alanacleaver_2000