KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Roundup: Ga. Smoker Surcharge Could Be Working

A selection of health policy news from Georgia, California, Maryland, Oregon, Minnesota, Kansas, Texas and New York.

Georgia Health News: Smokers' Surcharge May Be Having An Effect
State officials say the number of Georgians in the state employee health plan paying $80 more a month in insurance premiums due to smoking has dropped by 44 percent over the past six years. The goals of the surcharge in Georgia are to encourage people to quit smoking and to help cover their additional health costs, said Pam Keene, a spokeswoman for the Department of Community, which oversees the State Health Benefit Plan. From January 2007 to January 2013, the number of state workers paying the $80 fee because of smoking dropped from 46,459 to 25,850 (Miller, 4/8).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Hospitals In 5 States Clamp Down On Delivering Babies Before 39 Weeks
A study published Monday in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology showed a group of 25 hospitals in five states were able to cut their rates of elective early deliveries from nearly 28 percent to under 5 percent in one year. The March of Dimes, which partly funded the study and assisted the hospitals in setting up new policies and procedures, said the findings show hospitals can overcome cultural and economic barriers to lower their rates (Galewitz, 4/8).

Health News Florida: Project Succeeds In Delaying Deliveries
A quality-improvement project carried out by hospitals in Florida and four other large states triggered a rapid and dramatic drop in early elective deliveries, according to a study published Monday. Unless there's a reason for concern, it's best to let pregnancies progress until labor occurs naturally -- usually in the 39th, 40th or 41st week of pregnancy, past research has shown (Gentry, 4/9).

California Healthline: Groups Calling For Pause In Transition
Children's advocates last week called for a pause in the transition of kids from the Healthy Families program to Medi-Cal managed care. At a legislative hearing Thursday, advocates said the state had promised a relatively seamless transition of 860,000 children to managed care, but that gaps in coverage have already occurred -- with the more-difficult phases of the transition yet to come. The outcry was prompted, in part, when the families of an estimated 207 children who were receiving autism services through the Healthy Families program recently were told their coverage had to be stopped because of the state's Healthy Families transition (Gorn, 4/8).

Baltimore Sun: Anti-Abortion Group Stirs Speech Debate At Hopkins 
A group of students at the Johns Hopkins University is reviving a campus anti-abortion group that members say will perform "sidewalk counseling" -- attempting to discourage pregnant women entering clinics from going through with the procedure. But critics worry that the tactics of Voice for Life will harm the vulnerable women the group says it is trying to help. On Tuesday, a panel of undergraduates will review a decision by the Hopkins Student Government Association to deny recognition to the group (Wenger, 4/8). 

Baltimore Sun: General Assembly Session Ends In Flurry Of Votes 
During the flurry of activity Monday, the Senate voted 40-4 to approve a medical marijuana program, making Maryland the 19th state to do so. The legislation calls for doctors and nurses to distribute the drug through academic centers that also must study the program's effects. The structure of the state's plan is relatively conservative compared to states that allow private companies to set up dispensaries (Cox and Dresser, 4/9). 

Reuters: Maryland Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana
The Maryland legislature approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes on Monday, and Governor Martin O'Malley has said he would sign the measure and make Maryland the 20th state to legalize medicinal cannabis (4/8).

The Oregonian: Medical Marijuana Shops Would Be State Sanctioned Under Oregon House Bill
Oregon lawmakers on Monday took up a bill that would create a statewide registry of medical marijuana retailers. Business owners would have to pass criminal background checks, document the amount of marijuana coming into their establishments and verify that it's from state-registered growers. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, also would require that marijuana sold by state-registered outlets be tested for impurities (Crombie, 4/8).

Minnesota Public Radio News: Attorney General Questions Proposed Fairview-Sanford Merger
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is raising concerns over the University of Minnesota's plan to acquire Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services, which is also in merger talks with rural health care giant Sanford Health. ... Swanson has been wary of the potential merger between Sanford and Fairview for a number of reasons, especially because Fairview is a charitable institution whose net worth of $1.2 billion in assets was created by Minnesotans through tax breaks, donations, and land for the benefit of Minnesotans (Stawicki, 4/8).

Kansas Health Institute: KanCare Continuity Of Care Period Ends
The first 90 days of KanCare have passed, which means the transition period during which the state's 380,000 Medicaid beneficiaries could switch managed-care health plans this year is over. That is important -- for among other reasons -- because many KanCare enrollees may find themselves in situations where the medical providers they are accustomed to using are not in the network of the KanCare plan to which they were assigned or chose themselves before the changeover period ended April 4 (Shields, 4/8).

The Associated Press/Atlanta Journal Constitution: Central Texas Hospital Marred By Lab Deficiencies
At least a dozen deficiencies in lab testing procedures at a new Central Texas hospital resulted in several patients undergoing unnecessary procedures and emergency room patients having to wait up to five hours for test results. A report made by inspectors with the Texas Department of State Health Services at the request of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found deficiencies at the 100-bed, $210 million Lakeway Regional Medical Center, inaugurated last year, including poorly trained lab staff and a lack of policies and procedures (4/8).

California Healthline: Palliative Care Key Part Of Berkeley Forum’s Prescription
The Berkeley Forum, a task force of private and public sector health care leaders convened by UC-Berkeley's School of Public Health, is taking what it calls a new "bottom-up" approach to addressing health care costs and population health in California. … In a recently released report, the Forum suggested seven initiatives to help reduce health care spending in California by $110 billion over the next decade. Palliative care was a key area specifically highlighted by the Forum as having great promise in generating significant savings and improving the quality of care in California (Edlin, 4/8).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Doctor Convicted In Medicare Fraud Scheme
Authorities say a doctor has been convicted of participating in a $77 million Medicare fraud scheme. A jury in Brooklyn Monday convicted 50-year-old Dr. Gustave Drivas of Staten Island of health care fraud conspiracy and health care fraud following an eight-week trial. He was acquitted of kickback conspiracy (4/9).

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