KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Roundup: Troubles In Kentucky; Md. Hospital Under Review

The New York Times: What's The Matter With Eastern Kentucky?
The team at The Upshot, a Times news and data-analysis venture, compiled six basic metrics to give a picture of the quality and longevity of life in each county of the nation: educational attainment, household income, jobless rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity rate. Weighting each equally, six counties in eastern Kentucky’s coal country (Breathitt, Clay, Jackson, Lee, Leslie and Magoffin) rank among the bottom 10. Clay County, in dead last, might as well be in a different country. The median household income there is barely above the poverty line, at $22,296 .... The disability rate is nearly as high, at 11.7 percent. (Nationwide, that figure is 1.3 percent.) Life expectancy is six years shorter than average. Perhaps related, nearly half of Clay County is obese (Lowrey, 6/26).

The Associated Press: Md. Official: State Hospital Needs Improvements
The Department of Public Health and Mental Hygiene says a management overhaul at the state-owned Western Maryland Hospital Center in Hagerstown follows an inspection that showed a need for improvements. Former CEO Cynthia Pellegrino acknowledged Wednesday that she recently left the hospital, which provides rehabilitation and long-term nursing-home care to a daily average of 61 patients. Pellegrino wouldn’t discuss the reason for her resignation (6/25).

The Wall Street Journal: Pensions And Health Care Boost City Budget
Facing skyrocketing pension and health care costs, the New York City Council on Thursday morning adopted a $75 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins next week, on July 1. ... Pension and health care costs have contributed to steep increases in the cost of running the nation's largest city, raising concerns among some elected officials and budget watchdogs that more must be done to contain expenses. ... Annual employee health-care costs have climbed to $6.6 billion, up from $2.7 billion in fiscal year 2002 (Saul, 6/26). 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinal: Change In Medicare Plan To Force Some To Switch Doctors
An undisclosed number of people — but fewer than 500 in southeastern Wisconsin — covered by UnitedHealthcare's Medicare Advantage health plans in Wisconsin will be forced to switch doctors for at least for four months because of pending changes in the insurer's network. The network changes go into effect on Sept. 1. But people covered by Medicare Advantage plans cannot enroll in a different health plan until Jan. 1 (Boulton, 6/25).

The Oregonian: Vision Screenings Become Mandatory For Oregon Children Ages 7 Or Younger Who Are In School Or Preschool
Starting July 1, every Oregon child who is 7 or younger will be required to undergo a vision screening when he or she starts school or preschool to check for several eye diseases that can be treated successfully if they are caught early. The new requirement was approved by the 2013 Oregon Legislature when it unanimously passed HB 3000 (Wang, 6/25).

The Boston Globe: Mass. House Approves Cap On Nurse Workload
The Massachusetts House passed a bill Wednesday night establishing statewide limits on the number of patients assigned to nurses in hospital intensive care units, as part of a deal between the state’s largest nurses union and hospitals. The measure, passed unanimously, now goes to the Senate, and if it is passed there and signed into law before next Wednesday, the Massachusetts Nurses Association has agreed to withdraw two questions from the November ballot. One question calls for a more sweeping cap on nurses’ workloads in all hospital units. The other would require hospitals to publicly disclose financial information and total CEO compensation and establish penalties for excessive profits and pay (Kowalczyk, 6/25).

The Arizona Republic: Banner Health, UA Health Network Set To Combine
Banner Health is poised to acquire the University of Arizona Health Network in a pact that would combine Arizona's largest health-care system with the Tucson area's largest health-care entity. The Arizona Board of Regents will decide Thursday whether to authorize talks that would transition the University of Arizona Health Network into Phoenix-based Banner Health. The joint meeting will include the health network's board members (Alltucker, 6/25).

Miami Herald: Gov. Scott Signs Two Bills Into Law To Help Disabled Children
After signing a child welfare overhaul Monday, Gov. Rick Scott signed another bill that could begin to give voice to children long rendered voiceless. Scott signed HB 561 Wednesday, requiring the appointment of an attorney for dependent children with special needs. The Florida Legislature set aside $4.5 million to pay attorneys willing to represent disabled and medically needy children in the court system, said a statement from the advocacy group Florida’s Children First. Attorneys may also provide their services pro bono (Dupuy, 6/25).

North Carolina Health News: Hemp Oil Extract for Seizures Bill Nears Final Passage In NC
Tears fell from Sherena Ward’s eyes as a Senate committee pushed North Carolina one step closer to the legalization of hemp oil for her daughter who has a disorder that can cause her to have dozens of seizures a day. Ward’s 6-year-old daughter, Haley, has a rare genetic disorder, CDK L5, which causes difficulty in controlling seizures and severe neuro-developmental impairments. The bill legalizes the use of hemp oil only for people who have severe seizures and have been unresponsive to other medications, and would allow for the administration of hemp oil for children like Haley and Steve Carlin’s 5-year-old daughter, Zora (Singh, 6/26). 

North Carolina Health News: NC Senate Budget Targets Healthy Living Programs
North Carolina lawmakers have trimmed budgets for programs such as bike paths, pedestrian enhancements and obesity prevention in recent years. The current proposed House budget makes no bike and pedestrian funding cuts, but both chambers cut funding for physical-activity, nutrition and chronic disease-prevention programs. Loss of funding from the state also means the loss of federal matching dollars for prevention programs, which is sometimes two or three times what the state provides (Singh, 6/25). 

Texas Tribune: Uncertain Future For State's Division Of Blind Services
As lawmakers consider proposals to improve Texas’ health agencies, the future of the state's Division for Blind Services is up in the air. Texans who are blind and visually impaired can receive adaptive skill training and job assistance through the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), which separates the services it provides for the blind and other rehabilitation services into two divisions. But the state is considering a proposal to integrate the two divisions, part of a recommendation from staffers at the Sunset Advisory Commission, which is charged with identifying inefficiencies at state agencies. While lawmakers appointed to the Sunset Commission appeared largely supportive of consolidating the divisions, advocates for the blind voiced their concerns about the proposal during a public hearing on Wednesday (Ura, 6/25). 

Texas Tribune: Texas Considering No Longer Licensing X-Ray Technicians
When Texans get an X-ray or an MRI, the person performing that scan is licensed by the state. Now, the state is considering doing away with the licensing of X-ray technicians and 11 other types of health professionals. But some of the state’s 28,000 licensed X-ray technicians — formally called medical radiologic technologists — say dissolving the certification program would put patients at risk. A staff recommendation by the Sunset Advisory Commission that commissioners are set to consider in a public hearing Wednesday says that X-ray technicians don’t need to be licensed because they work in highly regulated health care facilities (MacLaggan and Ura, 6/25).

Kansas Health Institute News Service: Kansas Official Urges Reporting Elder Neglect In Face Of High Costs
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer on Wednesday urged Kansans to be quick in letting state officials know when they suspect an older adult is being abused or neglected. About 50 people – a mix of state employees and agency case workers – attended the 40-minute rally, one of several events being staged to highlight policy initiatives of Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration prior to the upcoming primary and general elections. Colyer, who’s also a plastic surgeon in Overland Park, told the group that “every single week,” he sees one or two new patients with bedsores that require reconstructive surgery. These bedsores, he said, are often due to caregiver neglect (Ranney, 6/25).

Kansas Health Institue News Service: Medicare Program Reports Decrease In Hospital Readmissions
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports that the number of Medicare beneficiaries readmitted to hospitals and the number of health care-related infections has gone down nationally and slightly more so in areas where so-called Quality Improvement Organizations (QIOs) have programs aimed at reducing the problems. Officials with the Kansas Foundation for Medical Care, the state's designated QIO, said hospital readmissions here among the Medicare population went down almost 15 percent between October 2010 and March 2013 and that hospital admissions also dropped by almost 10 percent. That translated into more than 6,000 fewer hospitalizations and 1,547 fewer readmissions (6/25).

Seattle Times: Transgender Discrimination Is Illegal, State Reminds Health Insurers
In a letter Wednesday to health insurance companies, the state makes clear that it is illegal to discriminate against transgender policyholders under both state law and the federal Affordable Care Act. Specifically, an insurance company cannot deny services for a transgender person solely on the basis of gender status. Additionally, the health insurer must pay for gender transition procedures if they are deemed medically necessary and if they’re covered for other policyholders for different reasons (Stiffler, 6/25).

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