KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Highlights: Federal Trial Testing Texas Abortion Law Begins Today

A selection of health policy stories from California, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, D.C. and Minnesota.  

The New York Times: California Asks: Should Doctors Face Drug Tests?
At a time when random drug testing is part of the job for pilots, train operators, police officers and firefighters — to name a few — one high-profile line of work has managed to remain exempt: doctors. That may be about to change. California would become the first state to require doctors to submit to random drug and alcohol tests under a measure to appear on the ballot this November. The proposal, which drew approval in early focus groups, was inserted as a sweetener in a broad initiative pushed by trial lawyers (Nagourney, 8/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Texas Trial To Test Higher Standard For State's Abortion Clinics
In a federal trial set to begin here on Monday, abortion-rights supporters are seeking to strike down a new provision of a state law that will require abortion clinics to qualify as "ambulatory surgical centers" starting next month, saying it will force even more of the state's facilities to close. Since Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a hotly contested law in July 2013 requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, the number of licensed Texas clinics providing abortions has declined by half over the past year, to 18 from 36. Many abortion doctors have been unable to obtain admitting privileges from neighboring hospitals, leaving swaths of the sprawling state without any clinics at all (Koppel, 8/3). 

Houston Chronicle: Whole Women’s Health Closes Austin Clinic Due To New Abortion Law
Whole Woman’s Health will close its flagship clinic in Austin, its operators said Thursday, due to strict abortion restrictions state lawmakers passed last year. The announcement comes just days before Whole Woman’s Health and the Center for Reproductive Rights again take the state to court over the rules, which among other new restrictions requires abortion clinics to upgrade their facilities to meet the standards of an outpatient surgery clinic. A trial starting Monday in Austin federal court will focus, in part, on this portion of the law, which is set to take effect on Sept. 1.According to a study released last week, abortion rates in the Lone Star State have dropped 13 percent since the law was passed (McGaughy, 7/31).

The New York Times: In New Jersey, Workers’ Advocates Aim To Put Paid Sick Time On Ballot
Frustrated in their efforts to make paid sick leave mandatory for businesses throughout New Jersey, workers’ advocates are now pressing their campaign city by city, emboldened by laws recently passed in Newark and Jersey City, as well as in New York City (McGeehan, 8/3). 

The Wall Street Journal: Christie Pushes For Smaller Pension Benefits
Gov. Chris Christie on Friday stepped up his push to scale back the state pension and health benefit system, creating a commission to study the perks of public workers. The five-member New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission will be charged with figuring out how to reap savings that will make the underfunded benefits system sustainable, Mr. Christie said (8/1).

The Associated Press: Hospital Killing Shows Safety Gap In Mental Health
When a man opened fire at a hospital outside Philadelphia, fatally shooting his caseworker and wounding his psychiatrist, the doctor saved his own life and probably the lives of others by pulling out a gun and shooting the patient. If Dr. Lee Silverman's decision to arm himself at the office was unusual, the violence that erupted at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital served as yet another illustration of the hazards mental health professionals face on the job — and, experts say, the need for hospitals to do more to protect them (Rubinkam, 8/3).

The Washington Post: D.C.’s United Medical Center Is On Financial Upswing, But Its Future Is Mired In Politics
Shortly after David R. Small took over as chief executive of D.C.’s United Medical Center last year, a woman at a community meeting gave him some unwelcome news about the facility he’d been hired to run. “It was,” Small recalls being told, “the hospital where you go to die.” The 354-bed hospital on Southern Avenue SE has long suffered from a dismal reputation as a hospital of last resort, an image buttressed by long-standing and well-publicized financial woes and its location, in one of the region’s most concentrated pockets of poverty (DeBonis, 8/3).

Los Angeles Times: California Adopts New Policies On Treatment Of Mentally Ill Inmates
California prison officials adopted sweeping new policies intended to protect mentally ill prisoners from abusive force and punishment, including use of pepper spray and deep isolation in solitary confinement cells (St. John, 8/2).

Minnesota Public Radio: Hennepin Co. First Responders Now Carry Drug To Reverse Opiate Overdose
Twenty-four Hennepin County Sheriff's deputies hit the streets Friday with a new tool they hope will save lives. Hennepin is the first county in the state to take advantage of a law that went into effect Aug. 1 that allows law enforcement personnel and first responders to carry and administer a drug that can reverse opiate overdoses. The brand name version of the drug is called Narcan. It also goes by the generic name naloxone. The antidote can overpower the opiates in an overdose victim's body and restart their respiratory system (Collins, 8/2).

Minnesota Public Radio: State To Resume Indefinite Storage Of Newborn Health Data
Minnesota's newborn screening program is again storing newborn screening data indefinitely. A law passed during the legislative session removes a restriction that required the Minnesota Department of Health to destroy dried blood spot cards after 71 days and test results after two years. To prepare for the change, the Minnesota Department of Health has sent more than 1,600 letters to prenatal providers informing them of the law (Benson, 8/1). 

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