KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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State Highlights: Blue Cross Blue Shield Of KC Asks Mo. Regulators For Filing Deadline ‘Flexibility’; Harken Health Shuts Down In Ill., Ga.

Media outlets report on news from Missouri, Illinois, Georgia, Wisconsin, Texas, Kansas, California, Louisiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Ohio and Florida.

Kansas City Star: Blue Cross Blue Shield Of KC Requests Obamacare Filing Flexibility 
A spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City said Monday the company has “requested flexibility” from the Kansas Insurance Department on a deadline to file plans to sell on the Affordable Care Act exchange next year. The company’s decision not to file by Monday’s midnight deadline casts uncertainty on 2018 “Obamacare” coverage options for people in two eastern Kansas counties and 30 western Missouri counties. (Marso, 5/15)

Chicago Tribune: Insurer Harken Health Shutting Doors
Insurer Harken Health is closing its doors in Illinois and Georgia, ending an experiment to combine health insurance and care. The insurer, which operates five health clinics in Chicago, Skokie and Des Plaines, began selling plans in Illinois and Georgia in 2015. A subsidiary of UnitedHealthcare, Harken offered its members unlimited free doctor visits at its health centers, which also offer wellness programs, such as acupuncture, yoga and meditation. (Schencker, 5/15)

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Doctors' Fees In Milwaukee Area 41% Higher Than National Average, Study Says
By one important measure, doctors in the Milwaukee area are paid 41% more than the estimated national average for the services they provide, a new study says. The same was true across much of eastern Wisconsin: Fees paid to doctors by employers' health plans in the Sheboygan area were 63% above the national average, ranking them the highest among the 61 markets included in the study by the Health Care Cost Institute. (Boulton, 5/15)

Stat: Texas Leans Into Unproven Stem Cell Treatments, To The Dismay Of Scientists
HB 810 is one of three bills being considered in the Texas Legislature that would make it easier for sick people to try unproven therapies at their own risk, and cost. Springer’s bill would allow clinics offering unapproved stem cell treatments to treat patients in Texas. HB 661 would permit people with chronic illness to get therapies in early-stage clinical trials — not just terminally ill patients, as the state’s current “right-to-try” law does. And HB 3236 would allow companies to charge patients for unproven therapies. (Joseph, 5/16)

St. Louis Public Radio: Missouri Budget Cuts Family Planning Funds For Uninsured Women, Restricts Provider Choice
Missouri is poised to strip additional providers from a state-run program that provides family planning services for uninsured women. The budget lawmakers are sending to Gov. Eric Greitens contains a provision that prohibits hospitals and clinics from participating in the Missouri Women's State-Funded Health Services Program if the organization also provides abortion services, as defined by a state law for sexual education in schools. (Bouscaren, 5/15)

KCUR: As Kansas Foster Care System Sets Records, Advocates Call For More Family Services
Family preservation services — including training for parents, referrals for food assistance and other support — are designed to promote that healing. According to DCF, most families that receive preservation services succeed: About 82 percent of families who participated statewide were able to avoid having a child removed from the home. But many at-risk families don’t receive preservation services, and some people who have worked for years in the social services system say the lack of help is pushing more children into foster care. (Wingerter, 5/15)

Modern Healthcare: Kaiser Hits $1 Billion Operating Gain In Q1 
Kaiser Permanente Monday posted a record $1 billion operating gain in its first quarter, just days after holding its largest-ever bond offering. The Oakland, Calif.-based health plan and hospital giant eclipsed the $1 billion barrier on revenue of $18.1 billion. That compared with an operating gain of $701 million on revenue of $16.3 billion in the year-earlier quarter. The 5.5% operating margin in the first quarter beat the strong 4.3% operating margin from the year-earlier period. (Barkholz, 5/15)

New Orleans Times-Picayune: This Man Went To An In-Network ER In New Orleans. Why Did He Get A $1,360 Doctor's Bill? 
What happened to [Steve] Fair is known as "balance billing," an increasingly common practice in our nation's convoluted health care system. Rather than staff their own ERs, many hospitals around the country hire physicians employed by staffing companies like Schumacher, experts say. Insurance companies then pay these contract physicians a pre-negotiated rate for their hospital services. Because they have no contract with the insurer, however, these doctors don't have to accept the negotiated rate as their total fee. Instead, they go after patients for the full amount. Since the prices of most medical procedures are hidden from view, doctors have no incentive to lower them.  (Lipinski, 5/15)

Minnesota Public Radio: Minnesota Measles Outbreak Spreads To Le Sueur County
Minnesota health officials say the number of measles cases rose by four over the weekend and the highly contagious disease has now moved into a southern Minnesota county. Two new cases of measles were discovered in Le Sueur County, the Minnesota Department of Health reported Monday in its daily measles tally. (Zdechlik, 5/15)

Boston Globe: Disabled Homeless Girl At Center Of Fight Over Housing Policy 
Cristal is a 2-year-old girl born with spina bifida, a condition that has required multiple surgeries and left her with limited sensation in her lower extremities.Over the past month, she has endured long, uncomfortable commutes between the Lowell homeless shelter where the state is housing her family and frequent appointments with her medical providers in Boston, according to recent court filings... The case illustrates the human dimension of one of thorniest entitlement program debates facing Massachusetts as Baker works to reduce the number of homeless families in motels at state expense to zero. (Miller, 5/15)

California Healthline: California Bill Would Protect Patients’ Access To Their Chosen Family Planning Providers
As national Republican leaders continue to try to defund Planned Parenthood, California and other states are considering steps to protect access to family planning services. California legislators have introduced a bill that would lock into state law a federal rule that allows Medicaid patients to see family planning providers of their choice. The bill is designed to preserve Californians’ access to Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health clinics should federal officials drop the rule. (5/16)

Boston Globe: Walmart Settles Discrimination Lawsuit On Spousal Benefits For Same-Sex Couples 
A federal judge approved a $7.5 million settlement Monday in a class-action lawsuit against Walmart that found the retail giant violated gender-discrimination laws for years when it denied spousal benefits to same-sex couples. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a New Bedford woman by the advocacy group GLAD. The settlement was based in large part on US Supreme Court rulings affirming the rights of same-sex couples to marry and, in an earlier ruling, their entitlement to federal spousal benefits. (Valencia, 5/15)

Cincinnati Enquirer: Transgender Lawsuit Settled, Cincinnati Public Library Now Covers Transgender Surgery
Rachel Dovel didn't mean to become a crusader for transgender rights. But the library employee found herself cast in that role last year when the library's health insurance refused to pay for her gender confirmation surgery - and the library's board wouldn't budge. She underwent surgery in December - and Monday she and her legal team announced she settled a lawsuit against the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. (Coolidge, 5/15)

Boston Globe: Newburyport Hospital Joining Beth Israel Deaconess-Lahey Merger
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health have enlisted another hospital in their campaign to create a stronger rival to Partners HealthCare, the market leader. Anna Jaques Hospital of Newburyport said Monday that it plans to join the Beth Israel Deaconess-Lahey merger, which was announced in January after years of on-again, off-again talks. (Dayal McCluskey, 5/15)

Boston Globe: Spaulding To Cut 35 Jobs
Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, part of the Partners HealthCare network, is slashing 35 jobs to cut costs. The cuts come as the entire Partners network embarks on a three-year initiative to rein in spending and become more efficient. (Dayal McCluskey, 5/15)

Health News Florida: Orlando Air Quality Prompts Warning For People With Asthma
The Environmental Protection Agency is warning that the Orlando area’s air quality is not healthy for sensitive groups. That means people with asthma and lung disease, as well as the elderly and children, should cut down on prolonged or heavy exercise outside. They recommend keeping asthma medication nearby. (Aboraya, 5/15)

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