KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Highlights: Heroin Deaths Rise In N.Y.; TennCare Computer System Delay; Colo. Races To Win $87M To Integrate Care;

A selection of health policy stories from Colorado, Minnesota, Georgia, Virginia, California, New York, Michigan and Tennessee.

The New York Times: Heroin's Death Toll Rising In New York, Amid A Shift In Who Uses It
A heroin crisis gripping communities across the country deepened in New York last year, with more people in the city dying in overdoses from the drug than in any year since 2003. In all, 420 people fatally overdosed on heroin in 2013 out of a total of 782 drug overdoses, rising to a level not seen in a decade in both absolute numbers and as a population-adjusted rate, according to preliminary year-end data from the city’s health department (Goodman, 8/28).

McClatchy: TennCare Computer System Delay Draws Federal Criticism
Just days before TennCare leaders head to court over accusations that state failures have created months-long delays in coverage, the agency’s director faced questions from lawmakers about the unfinished computer system that led to those delays. TennCare Director Darin Gordon told lawmakers Tuesday that nearly a year after the new state’s new Medicaid eligibility system was supposed to be completed, the contractors building the system have not finished even the first of four testing phases (Harrison Belz, 8/27).

Health News Colorado: Race To Win $87 Million Could Fuel Blended Physical, Behavioral Health
Integration is a hot buzzword to describe efforts to blend physical and behavioral health care. But the sad truth from experts who have been doing integration for decades is that most efforts won't work, either because managers don't know how to fully integrate their health systems or because they can't pay for it. Colorado health policy leaders are trying to strengthen and expand integration pilot programs with a jolt of federal cash. Much like "Race for the Top" funds in education, states are competing for a new pot of $700 million in federal cash to fuel innovations in health. Colorado officials are applying for $87 million and could get an answer by the end of October (Kerwin McCrimmon, 8/27).

Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Minnesota Doctors Now Must Report Dense Breast Tissue On Mammograms
The standard "all-clear" letter sent after mammograms to tell women they are cancer-free is going to contain new and potentially troubling information for thousands of Minnesota women -- the disclosure that they have dense tissue in their breasts that could cloud their cancer screenings. Minnesota mandated as of Aug. 1 that doctors notify women if their mammograms discover dense breast tissue, which can mask the presence of a tumor on an X-ray (Olson, 8/27).

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Increased Medicaid Pay For Doctors Set To End This Year
Dr. Sean Lynch is forced to turn away as many as seven low-income patients every day, and that number could soon grow. For the past two years, Lynch and other Georgia doctors have received more money for treating Medicaid. ... But the reimbursement hike — fully paid for by the federal government for two years — is set to end on Dec. 31 unless the state opts to extend the increase with its own money (Murchison, 8/28).

Stateline: Fighting Financial Scams Aimed At Seniors
Sally Hurme figured that if anyone knew about financial scams targeted at older Americans, it would be her family and friends. After all, Hurme, an attorney and AARP project advisor, had spent two decades educating seniors across the country about fraud and how to avoid it. That's why she was so shocked when her own husband, Art, 71, became the victim of a fraud in January. The retired Army Corps of Engineers marine biologist wound up losing $3,000 in an "imposter scam" after receiving a call at his Alexandria, Va., home from a sobbing woman claiming to be his daughter (Bergal, 8/27).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Urgent Care Centers Opening For People With Mental lllness
Mental health urgent care centers, also known as crisis stabilization units, are opening throughout California in response to the shortage of psychiatric beds and the increase in patients with mental illnesses showing up at hospital emergency rooms with nowhere else to go, experts and advocates said. In Los Angeles County, four such centers have opened and several more are planned. L.A. County's mental health director Marvin Southard said the centers are a more effective way to care for many patients with mental illness and are less disruptive to hospitals. And county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who led the effort to open the center, said they are "more humane" and a smarter approach (Gorman, 8/28).

The Associated Press: Deal On Health Care Aids Port Contract Talks
Negotiators hoping to forge a new contract for dockworkers and keep hundreds of billions of dollars in cargo moving smoothly through West Coast seaports made significant progress with a tentative deal on health care benefits, a knotty issue that tied up talks for months. West Coast dockworkers already have unusually generous health benefits -- so generous, argue their employers who pay for the coverage, that the insurance plan has become riddled with fraud (8/27).

The Associated Press: Firm Allegedly Gipped Workers Out Of Jobs, $100K
Prosecutors hammered a Brooklyn contractor Wednesday with allegations he cheated workers out of $100,000 and reneged on promises of permanent jobs and health care. Contractor Anthony Miller and his firm Bael Out Enterprises were arraigned in Brooklyn Supreme Court on charges they schemed to defraud more than 70 workers and failed to obtain workers' compensation insurance (8/27).

Kaiser Health News: Health Law Spurs Focus On Faster Drug Development
Imagine if scientists could recreate you -- or at least part of you -- on a chip. That might help doctors identify drugs that would help you heal faster, bypassing the sometimes painful trial-and-error process and hefty health care costs that accompany arriving at the right treatment. Right now, at the University of California, Berkeley, researchers in bioengineer Kevin Healy's lab are working to make that happen. Funded under a provision of the health law, they're trying to grow human organ tissue, like heart and liver, on tiny chips (Hernandez, 8/28). 

Pioneer Press: Minnesota Health Care Union Vote Bucks National Labor Trend
The creation of a new bargaining unit to represent the state's 27,000 home health care workers could boost the dwindling ranks of union membership in once labor-strong Minnesota. While the percentage of Minnesota workers affiliated with unions is still above the national average, it has been steadily declining since its peak at 22 percent in 1992, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Woltman, 8/26).

Detroit Free Press: New Nonprofit Aims To Boost Michigan Women's Access To Health Care
A new nonprofit dedicated to informing Michiganders about the types of laws passed or being considered by the state Legislature that it sees as detrimental to women's access to health care will officially get off the ground today. Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, is the spokeswoman for the new group -- Right to Health -- that will travel the state to talk to women about obstacles to obtaining quality health care (Gray, 8/28).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.