KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Partners HealthCare Offers $40 Million To Control Costs Health Insurance Costs In Massachusetts; Neb. Gov. Signs New Abortion Law

The Boston Globe: "Partners HealthCare, whose Boston teaching hospitals have been blamed for helping to drive up medical spending, is offering $40 million toward reducing double-digit health insurance rate increases for small businesses, part of a broader package that will be unveiled today by Senate President Therese Murray. Murray will tell business leaders this morning that her plan, offered amid the Patrick administration's legal battle to cap insurers' rate hikes, could immediately reduce premiums paid by small employers by 10 to 15 percent, if approved by the Legislature. The bill would give insurers an option: Peg premium increases to the inflation rate for medical spending or reduce administrative costs and profits. The bill will be filed within a month and be voted on by the Senate soon after, Murray pledged in an interview yesterday. She said she is asking providers to contribute $100 million this year as part of her plan, which would reduce health insurance premiums for small businesses by about 2.5 percent. The Partners president, Dr. Gary Gottlieb, approached Murray last week, she said, and offered to contribute the $40 million" (Lazar and Kowalczyk, 4/14).

The New York Times: "Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska signed a law on Tuesday banning most abortions 20 weeks after conception or later on the theory that a fetus, by that stage in pregnancy, has the capacity to feel pain. The law ... is the first in the nation to restrict abortions on the basis of fetal pain. Abortion opponents praised the law and said it was justified by medical evidence gained since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Abortion rights advocates said that the measure was unconstitutional" (Davey, 4/13).

The Associated Press: "State auditors said Tuesday the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has mishandled mental-health reform and failed to develop some regulations required by a 2004 law. The Legislature's Performance Audit Committee report identified several concerns. The auditors say the state agency overseeing the state's shift from state psychiatric hospitals to more community-based care as required by a 2004 law is falling short of several planning goals. HHS officials have yet to develop a statewide comprehensive plan to guide the six regional boards that distribute funding for mental-health care" (Funk, 4/13).

The Chicago Tribune: "The Illinois Hospital Association on Wednesday will debut an information-packed Web site, the first of its kind in the U.S., with extensive data about quality of care, patients' satisfaction and the type and volume of services hospitals provide. ... The organization's effort contributes to a sudden explosion of information about medical care in Illinois that is beginning to pierce a long-standing veil of secrecy surrounding medical providers' performance. After years of delay, the state published the Illinois Hospital Report Card and Consumer Guide to Health Care in November, featuring data about charges and medical care at hospitals and surgery centers." It "was updated Monday to include information about hospitals' death rates and patient safety records. The federal government also publishes data about hospitals on Medicare's Hospital Compare Web site" (Graham, 4/14).

Honolulu Star-Bulletin: "Gov. Linda Lingle is warning that the state employees' health fund plan is out of money. ... Lingle wants the Legislature to amend a series of bills to change the structure of the Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund. The fund consultant recommends a 26 percent rate increase starting in July. Rates went up an average of 24 percent last year. In her letter, Lingle said she wants the fund to change its benefits to cut costs and restructure the board. Right now there are an equal number of union and management members on the EUTF board, meaning that most proposals to change the plan end in a tie vote. Noting that the union members will not support either raising premium costs or lowering benefits, the governor says 'they shoulder the responsibility for the collapse of the health care insurance system'" (Borreca, 4/14).

The Missoulian: Montana's "new expanded health insurance plan for children is slowly gaining enrollment, but key lawmakers Tuesday urged health officials to push harder on signing up eligible kids." Senate Minority Leader Carol Williams, D-Missoula, "and two other senators met Wednesday with state health and budget officials about the progress of Healthy Montana Kids. ... Montana voters in November 2008 overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure creating the program, which expanded the eligibility of two established public health insurance plans. ... Backers of the program said the expansion would bring coverage to 29,000 additional Montana kids without health insurance. Yet in the first four months of Healthy Montana Kids, which was launched last Oct. 1, only 4,200 additional children have gained coverage" (Dennison, 4/13).

The Baltimore Sun: Maryland "Gov. Martin O'Malley gave the state more power to prosecute Medicaid fraud and established a patient-centered medical care program, among the 170 bills he signed into law Tuesday morning. ... The Democratic administration said the measures will help the state reduce medical costs and improve care. The crackdown on Medicaid fraud comes after three years of unsuccessful attempts to pass the legislation, Brown said. The new law, called the False Claims Act, encourages whistle-blowers to come forward by allowing anyone with knowledge of false Medicaid claims to file a lawsuit and share a percentage of damages. The patient-centered medical care bill, through financial incentives to doctors, encourages a focus on preventive care" (Bykowicz, 4/13).

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on a lawsuit, "filed in San Francisco federal court on behalf of three couples, [that] challenges a 1996 federal law that authorized states to set up long-term care plans for their employees. Buying coverage at lower rates than the private market offers, employees can use pretax dollars to pay premiums and can deduct future benefits -- including the costs of in-home care or nursing homes -- from their taxes. The law denies coverage to an employee's same-sex partner. California granted spousal benefits to same-sex domestic partners in 2005 with a law that contained one major exemption -- the long-term care coverage authorized by federal law. The same exemption applies to state employees who married their partners between May 2008, when the California Supreme Court extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians, and November 2008, when voters overturned that ruling by passing Proposition 8" (Egelko, 4/14). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.