KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

full issue

State Highlights: Mass. Consumers To Face Higher Costs In ’16; Florida Enrollment Numbers Highest Among States Using Healthcare.gov

News outlets report on health care developments in Massachusetts, Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Iowa, Ohio, Idaho, Texas, Georgia and California.

The Associated Press: Massachusetts Health Insurance Costs On The Rise
Massachusetts consumers and businesses are expected to pay more for health insurance in 2016. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state's biggest commercial insurer, is raising premiums an average of 5 percent. Tufts Health Plan's rates are set to increase between 3 and 7 percent; Harvard Pilgrim Health is raising rates 6 to 12 percent; and Fallon Health could raise rates as much as 17 percent. (1/4)

Miami Herald: More Than 1.5 Million Floridians Signed Up For Obamacare
Eight weeks into open enrollment for Affordable Care Act plans, Floridians continue to sign up in greater numbers than residents of any of the 38 states using the federally run exchange at healthcare.gov, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services reported this week. More than 1.5 million Floridians have selected a health plan since enrollment began on Nov. 1. The deadline for eligible consumers to select a plan for 2016 is Jan. 31. (Chang, 12/31)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: State Finally Accepting Applications For Program For Low Income Pregnant Women
Low income pregnant women will be able to apply for health insurance Jan. 1 -- more than a year after Gov. Jay Nixon approved the program. Nixon, a Democrat, announced Thursday the state would begin accepting applications for the Show-Me Healthy Babies program from pregnant women who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to pay for a private health plan. The announcement comes about three months after the Post-Dispatch revealed the state was slow to implement the program. The governor approved the Republican-led Legislature's measure in 2014. (Stuckey, 12/31)

Idaho Falls Post Register/Idaho Statesman: Home-Care Providers, Patients Sue Idaho Over Medicaid Cuts
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare earlier this month announced deep cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates for in-home care of the developmentally disabled. Now, facing possible layoffs and loss of care, several providers and patients are fighting back in court. Eight care providers from around the state and two developmentally disabled patients filed the lawsuit last week in Boise against the Department of Health and Welfare as a whole, as well as its director, Richard Armstrong, and Lisa Hettinger, an administrator for its Medicaid program. (Ramseth, 12/30)

Columbus Dispatch: Old Rules Say Medicaid Patients Can’t Fill Psychiatric Beds
More than half of the 1,141 patients who sought inpatient psychiatric services last month in Franklin County were enrolled in Medicaid. On average, they waited 26 hours for that care — twice as long as the typical 13-hour wait for patients who had private health insurance. Fueling that disparity is the fact that most of the region’s private psychiatric beds remain largely off-limits to Medicaid enrollees, even as their numbers swell as a result of Ohio’s Medicaid expansion. (Sutherly, 12/29)

The Concord Monitor: Capital Beat: Does Graying Of Our Legislature Impact Policy?
Typically older people focus on keeping taxes low, and are less worried about investments in education or economic development because their lives are already settled, Fowler said. While older residents are big consumers of government services and public revenue, they generally rely on federal programs like Social Security and Medicare over services provided at the state level. A Legislature made up of older members has benefits, including decades of life and job experience and institutional knowledge. On the flip side, graying lawmakers can be slow to embrace new ideas or technologies, some said. (Morris, 1/3)

Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail: 25 W.Va. Hospitals See $265 Million Drop In Uncompensated Care
More than two dozen West Virginia hospitals saved more than $265 million last year through reductions in uncompensated care from 2013 to 2014, according to data from the West Virginia Health Care Authority compiled by West Virginians for Affordable Health Care. More than 200,000 West Virginians have gained health insurance since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act expanded coverage in 2013, including more than 165,000 new Medicaid recipients and more than 34,000 newly insured in the individual market. Because the state’s uninsured rate has dropped markedly — from 17.6 percent in 2013 to an 8.3 percent in the first half of 2015, according to Gallup — hospitals have had to provide less charity care to the uninsured, and have seen more reimbursement from those now covered by expanded Medicaid. (Nuzum, 1/2)

The Associated Press: Uncompensated Care Declines At West Virginia Hospitals
Declines in uncompensated care have saved West Virginia hospitals millions of dollars, data compiled by an advocacy group show. More than two dozen hospitals saved a total of more than $265 million from 2013 to 2014, according to West Virginia Health Care Authority data compiled by West Virginians for Affordable Health Care. (1/3)

Des Moines Register: Watchdog: Nurse Says Health System Overbilled Her
Cathi Grinaldi understands that most of us know little or nothing about how we are billed for medical visits and procedures. Because she does know, the veteran West Des Moines nurse felt obligated to appeal a $265 charge for a doctor’s visit that never happened. “Upcoding,” the practice of applying a billing code that results in a higher reimbursement rate to medical providers than is justified, is a common problem in the health care industry. Grinaldi, who references that coding sometimes in her work for an insurance company, believes she is a victim. (Rood, 1/1)

The Columbus Dispatch: Employers Pinched As Health-Care Costs Soar
In Ohio, an estimated 4.3 percent of employers with at least 50 workers didn’t offer health coverage in 2013, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But that figure includes companies that have at least 100 employees — a smaller number of companies, but a group that is more likely to offer health coverage. Many small businesses have been scrambling since summer to comply with the requirement, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, said Randy Ayers, a board member and past president of the Columbus Association of Health Underwriters. (Sutherly, 1/3)

Houston Chronicle: Former New Milford Mayor Promises Bonuses, Insurance Coverage In Final Days Of Office
Two former mayoral assistants are fighting for perks — more than $10,000 worth of bonuses and continued health insurance — they were promised by Pat Murphy in her final days of office that have since been denied by the new administration. Murphy, the town’s longest-serving mayor who lost her bid in November for a seventh term, authorized bonuses for her former assistants, Tammy Reardon and Marla Scribner. Murphy also promised Reardon continued health insurance coverage under the town’s plan for four months after she left her position on Nov. 30. (Tuz, 1/4)

Georgia Health News: Shots At The Pharmacy — A Growing Trend In Georgia
A state law that’s been in place for less than six months has improved access to key vaccines for Georgia adults. The legislation allows pharmacists and nurses to administer vaccines for influenza, pneumococcal disease, shingles and meningitis. This is a big development for Georgia pharmacists, who have been administering flu vaccine to all comers since 2009 and other shots to people with individual prescriptions from a doctor. (Han, 1/2)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Tethered To Machine In Hospital, Babies Pose Quandary For Doctors, Heartache For Families
All Ke’Aiden has known since birth has been a hospital room at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Because of a high-tech mechanical ventilator helping him breathe, he’s only felt the outside world briefly a few times. The breathing machine, a new technology that more safely assists the fragile lungs of premature babies, is typically used for a short period before a newborn gradually weans from the assistance. But for some reason, Ke’Aiden’s lungs are not getting better. The machine that saved his life is now keeping him from fully living it. He’s the second child at the children’s hospital whose body is unable to wean from the machine. (Munz, 1/3)

Los Angeles Times: With Notecards Instead Of Computer Files, Dr. Mull Makes The Rounds Early At South L.A. Clinic
The line of patients starts to form outside South Central Family Health Center about 6:30 a.m. By then, Dr. Dennis Mull has sipped his coffee, reviewed his labs and stuffed his shirt pocket full of pens and 3-by-5 notecards. For 18 years, he's driven from Irvine to South L.A. to serve a population with limited resources: patients who work multiple jobs to make ends meet, who lack health insurance and often show up knowing little about their medical history. (Bermudez, 12/28)

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