KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Highlights: TB Outbreak In Alabama Prisons

A selection of health policy stories from Alabama, California, Washington, Texas, Georgia, Minnesota and Oregon. 

The Associated Press: Worst TB Outbreak In 5 Years Hits Alabama Prisons
Alabama’s prison system, badly overcrowded and facing a lawsuit over medical treatment of inmates, is facing its worst outbreak of tuberculosis in five years, a health official said Thursday. Pam Barrett, director of tuberculosis control for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said medical officials have diagnosed nine active cases of the infectious respiratory disease in state prisons so far this year (8/14). 

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Wide Variation In Hospital Charges For Blood Tests Called 'Irrational'
One California hospital charged $10 for a blood cholesterol test, while another hospital that ran the same test charged $10,169 — over 1,000 times more. For another common blood test called a basic metabolic panel, the average hospital charge was $371, but prices ranged from a low of $35 to a high of $7,303, more than 200 times more (Rabin, 8/15).

Seattle Times: Ban On Boarding Mentally Ill In ERs Could Force Release Of Many
More than 100 severely mentally ill patients in need of care could be released from Washington hospitals before the end of the month, as the state struggles to comply with a recent ban on warehousing psychiatric patients in emergency rooms. The state has been scrambling for a week to respond to the state Supreme Court’s ruling, but so far has been able to free up only a fraction of the long-term beds that will be needed when the decision goes into effect Aug. 27, said Andi Smith, Gov. Jay Inslee’s policy adviser on health and human services. ... This poses a serious dilemma for hospitals. By adhering to the order and knowingly discharging dangerous or unstable patients, they fear they could be in violation of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), said Taya Briley, general counsel for the Washington State Hospital Association (Mannix, 8/14).

Reuters: The Other Texas Border Deployment: Doctors, Dentists, Opticians
For the Texas State and National Guard, Operation Lone Star is a disaster preparedness exercise. For public health experts, it is a humanitarian mission. And for Itzel, a teenage schoolgirl, it is a chance to finally get glasses so she can read textbooks. Operation Lone Star started 16 years ago to help the guard prepare for emergencies such as hurricanes or pandemics in south Texas. Since then it has expanded its medical care component, treating thousands in a region that hugs the Mexican border, including some who come because no identification papers are required. "It feels weird to see things in focus," Itzel said as she tried on newly made prescription glasses (Herskovitz, 8/14).

Georgia Health News: State Health Plan Choices For 2015 Draw Praise
Many state employees and teachers will see no increase in their health insurance premiums next year under rates approved by a state agency’s board Thursday. The State Health Benefit Plan members will have choices among plans offered by three health insurers, rather than a single insurance company this year. The SHBP covers 650,000 state employees, teachers, other school personnel, retirees and dependents. With those numbers, the members of the health plan have proved to be a potent political force in this election year (Miller, 8/14).

Minnesota Public Radio: Minnesota Security Hospital Gets OSHA Citation
The Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a citation related to working conditions at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, which has faced repeated problems over the years connected to employee and patient safety. The state Department of Human Services confirmed that OSHA inspectors visited the site on Aug. 1. Deputy Commissioner Anne Barry wasn't available for comment, but released a statement about OSHA's findings. "Everyone deserves to work in a safe environment. Over the past two years, Minnesota Security Hospital has made significant progress in employee safety by increasing the amount of staff and providing specialized training," Barry said (Collins, 8/14).

The Oregonian: Oregon Adds Transgender Procedures To Oregon Health Plan
A full range of state medical coverage for low-income transgender people will be offered for the first time starting early next year. The Health Evidence Review Commission, a 13-member board charged with setting Oregon Health Plan priorities, made that decision Thursday during a meeting in Portland. The decision was hailed by advocates, who called it an historic step toward equality in medical care (Tims, 8/14). 

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