KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Highlights: Mass. Launches New Electronic Health Records Updates

A selection of health policy stories from California, Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia, Texas and Georgia.

Los Angeles Times: Gov. Jerry Brown To Propose Billions In New Spending
When he unveils his new budget plan Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown will propose billions of dollars in new spending on schools, health care, social services and environmental programs as California reaps the benefits of an economic turnaround. … The proposed budget includes $670 million more for Medi-Cal, the state's public health care program, which is expanding as part of President Obama's federal overhaul. The program is expected to serve a quarter of California's residents next year (Megerian and York, 1/8).

The Associated Press: Mass. Updates Electronic Medical Records System
Massachusetts has launched the next phase of an electronic medical records system designed to make it easier for doctors to pull up a patient's medical history with the click of a button. State officials say the Mass HIway Health Information Exchange will for the first time let health care providers locate, request, and retrieve medical records from other participating health care providers across the state on a secure, interconnected system (1/8).

WBUR: Mass. Opens Road To Sharing Medical Records
The HIway is a network of hospitals and physician groups -- 57 so far -- that have agreed to share the records of those patients who've given their permission to do so. Gov. Deval Patrick launched the HIway in 2012, sending some of his records from Massachusetts General Hospital to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. Now the program can bring in, as well as push out, records, as Dr. John Halamka, the chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical, demonstrates (Bebinger, 1/8).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: New Customer Service Data Available On California Medical Groups
Californians looking for more information about their doctors can now turn to a statewide website that includes new data on 170 physician groups. The website rates medical groups based on patients’ survey responses on access, care and customer service. Patients can compare doctor groups on such criteria as how easy it was to get appointments, how helpful the office staff was and how effectively the doctors communicated (Gorman, 1/9).

Los Angeles Times: New California Physician Group Ratings Unveiled By Consumer Reports
Californians searching for a doctor have new ratings from Consumer Reports on 170 physician groups statewide. The scores released Wednesday are intended to help consumers see how different medical offices measure up on providing care and dealing with patients (Terhune, 1/8). 

The New York Times: In Annual Speech, Vermont Governor Shifts Focus To Drug Abuse
In a sign of how drastic the epidemic of drug addiction here has become, Gov. Peter Shumlin on Wednesday devoted his entire State of the State Message to what he said was "a full-blown heroin crisis" gripping Vermont (Seelye, 1/8).

The Washington Post: Deeds Returns To The Virginia Senate Seven Weeks After His Son's Attack And Suicide
In one of his rare public comments since the November tragedy, Deeds told his local paper via email that he would make it his life's work to correct the systemic flaws that he blames for his son's death. He has already proposed two bills intended to do just that. One would lengthen the time authorities can hold someone subject to a court order while searching for a psychiatric placement. The other would create an online registry that would provide real-time data on the availability of psychiatric beds (Vozzella, 1/8). 

Kaiser Health News: Doors To Treatment Opening For Poor Illinoisans Struggling With Mental Illness
Five years ago, Joseph Hale didn't care whether he lived or died. He was unemployed, hooked on drugs and deeply depressed. Help came after Hale swallowed a bottle of pills and landed in South Shore Hospital. There, an outreach worker persuaded him to seek help at a local mental health agency. Within a few months, Hale was living in a men's residence, going to group therapy every day, and beginning to feel secure for the first time in his life (Graham, 1/9).

The Texas Tribune: Providers Face Obstacles In New Women's Health Program
Since ousting Planned Parenthood clinics from the Women's Health Program, which provides cancer screening, well-woman exams and contraception for low-income women, state leaders have made a concerted effort to recruit physician groups to fill the void.  They also widened the services covered, adding testing and some limited treatment for sexually transmitted diseases (Aaronson, 1/9).

Georgia Health News: New Laws On Health? Probably Not Many This Year
A safe prediction for the upcoming session of the Georgia General Assembly is that dozens of bills involving health care will be up for consideration. That's the case every year under the Gold Dome. But given the likelihood this year of a short session, ending in mid-March, it's also a good bet that many health bills will be sidetracked or stalled before they come to a vote. (Miller, 1/8).

The California Health Report: For Homeless Women, Health Insurance Not Enough
More than 1.4 million California residents will be newly eligible for Medi-Cal under the ACA, including up to 55,000, or 53 percent, of chronically homeless people. The expansion includes dental care, and treatments for mental illness and basic substance abuse, services that the homeless population needs desperately. Homeless women present additional challenges to shelters and clinics: many are victims of sexual assault, need preventative treatments like mammograms, and require childcare in order to get to doctors’ appointments. So for the ACA to really work, housing providers, clinics and policymakers will have to work together to coordinate care (Amandolare, 1/9).

California Healthline: Blue Shield Disagrees With Jones’ Assessment Of Premium Rate Hike
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones yesterday strongly condemned a recent rate hike by Blue Shield of California. The 9.8 percent rate hike will affect about 81,000 grandfathered individual market policies, according to Jones. … Jones said the rate hike doesn't measure up based on a number of criteria, including overblown assumptions about growth in utilization of services, he said. … In a written statement, Blue Shield's vice president of corporate communications Stephen Shivinsky said the DOI numbers don't add up (Gorn, 1/8).

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