KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Health Advocacy Group Pushes Liquor Tax In Md.; Mass. Computer Files With Personal Health Care Information Are Lost; Calif. Battles Whooping Cough Epidemic

The Baltimore Sun: "A health advocacy group is hoping to use this year's election to pressure General Assembly members into passing a 'dime a drink' liquor tax increase to help pay for health care for the disabled and poor. Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative sent out letters Monday to all candidates running for the state Senate or House of Delegates, urging them to sign a pledge supporting the tax. The group said they plan to direct voters to call candidates who don't respond to the pledge. The letter wasn't sent to gubernatorial candidates Gov. Martin O'Malley or his Republican challenger, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr." (Walker, 7/20).

In another article, The Baltimore Sun reports: "A task force charged with overseeing sweeping federal health care reform in Maryland approved Monday an interim plan that outlines steps to prepare for the changes it will bring. The plan sets goals such as containing costs while improving quality, expanding the health care work force to meet demands of new patients and making sure reform actually leads to the better health of Maryland residents. The 12-member Maryland Health Care Reform Coordinating Council voted unanimously to approve the plan. Three members were absent" (Walker, 7/19).

The Boston Globe: "Computer files from South Shore Hospital that contain personal information for about 800,000 people may have been lost when they were shipped to a contractor to be destroyed, hospital officials announced yesterday. The officials declined to identify the contractor, but said that an independent information security consulting firm has determined that specialized software, hardware, and technical knowledge would be required to open and decipher information in the files. They also said they had no evidence that the information in those files had been improperly used by anyone" (Lazar, 7/20).

The Associated Press/Seattle Times: "An Oklahoma judge granted an injunction Monday blocking enforcement of a state law that would require women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus. Oklahoma County District Judge Noma Gurich set a pretrial hearing for Jan. 21 and directed that the state not enforce the law, which was passed by legislators this year. A temporary restraining order against the law had been in effect since May" (Talley, 7/19).

The Los Angeles Times: "California public health officials on Monday strongly urged elderly adults, children and pregnant women to get vaccinated against whooping cough, citing an epidemic in the state that is on track to be the worst in 50 years. Nearly 1,500 cases of whooping cough have been reported statewide this year, nearly five times the number of cases last year, according to Dr. Gil Chavez, the state's epidemiologist. Babies under 6 months old are the most vulnerable because even those vaccinated have yet to develop immunity, Chavez said. Five infants have died of whooping cough so far this year, all under 3 months old" (Hennessy-Fiske, 7/20).

The Des-Moines Register: "An impasse over health benefits between West Des Moines and its police officers reflects a broader push by the city to cut expenses by bringing employee benefits more in line with the private sector. The city is trying to negotiate union employees into less generous health plans and it is enrolling all new non-union employees into one of two plans with higher deductibles, co-pays, coinsurance and out-of-pocket limits. The out-of-pocket limits this fiscal year range from $3,000 for a family in the Wellness plan to $7,000 for a family in the Savers plan. That compares to the standard plan's $750 out-of-pocket limit, whose premium is slightly lower than the Wellness plan" (Belz, 7/20).

The Los Angeles Times: "Oakland could approve a plan Tuesday to set up four marijuana factory farms, a step that could usher in the era of Big Pot. The proposal is a testament to just how fast the marijuana counterculture is transforming into a corporate culture. And it has ignited a contentious debate in Oakland that could spread as cities face pressure to regulate marijuana cultivation and find ways to tax it" (Hoeffel, 7/20).

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