KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State News: N.Y. Medicaid’s Compromise; Va. Ups Health Spending; Medi-Cal Ruling

Stateline: Massachusetts Tackles Health Care Costs
One of the most familiar criticisms of the new national health care law is that it doesn't do much to contain costs. ... Cost controls are supposed to come later. "Later" has arrived now for Massachusetts' statewide plan, enacted in 2006 and similar in many ways to the federal one. Some 98 percent of all adults and nearly 100 percent of all children are covered, but costs have spiraled out of control. ... Democratic Governor Deval Patrick has proposed a sweeping bill designed to rein in health care expenses ... at its heart are strict price restrictions on hospitals and other medical providers (Vestal, 2/28). 

The New York Times: Cuomo's Budget Strategy, Getting Adversaries To Suggest Cuts, Is Paying Off
[Gov. Andrew] Cuomo warned of the need to close half-empty prisons, but his budget never spells out which ones to shut down. He called for billions in cuts to Medicaid, but he appointed a committee to make them. He ordered spending at state agencies cut 10 percent, without saying how. But last week, Mr. Cuomo's Medicaid committee voted to recommend more than $2 billion in spending cuts. Without any overt animosity, the biggest hole in the governor's budget had been plugged. And the snickering stopped (Kaplan, 2/27).

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Temperature Still Rising Over N.J. Health Costs
New Jersey pays 2 1/2 times more for current and former public workers' health benefits than it did a decade ago. And the $2.5 billion-plus cost, about 9 percent of the state budget, is expected to keep growing. How to rein in health costs will be one of the biggest debates at the Statehouse in coming months, as Gov. Christie promises to double property-tax relief for seniors and middle-class homeowners only if lawmakers vote to have government workers pay more for their benefits. In a move that has riled public-sector unions, Christie has proposed that government workers pay for 30 percent of their insurance premiums (Rao, 2/28).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: State's Insurance Plan Still Generous
The standoff in Madison on collective-bargaining rights largely has overshadowed that state employees effectively will be taking a significant pay cut under Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill. But by any measure, as Walker has noted and most state employees acknowledge, the state will continue to provide rich health-insurance benefits compared with the private sector, where nearly 40% of employers don't offer health benefits at all. ... The proposal would increase their share of the premium to 12.4%. But that would still be well below the share paid by employees in the private sector (Boulton, 2/27).

Bloomberg: Brewer's Arizona Medicaid Cuts May Slam Hospitals As Patients Lose Funding
When 62-year-old John Schoenhoft's abnormal heartbeat landed him in a Cottonwood, Arizona, hospital for three days in August, he had no insurance, his hours as a home health caregiver had been cut and his wife was out of work. Taxpayers picked up his $30,000 bill under Arizona's Medicaid system. Whether it would cover a future occurrence will depend on Governor Jan Brewer's plan to strike as many as 280,000 adults from Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor funded by the state and federal governments, to help bridge a $1.2 billion budget gap for the year that begins July 1 (Crawford, 2/28).

Connecticut Mirror: Malloy Embraces Health Reform, But Cautious About SustiNet
[Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's] Administration officials say they share the goals of SustiNet, which was created to produce universal health care and is now being pitched as a public insurance option that could promote delivery system changes and reduce health care costs. But they say they're looking to the federal reforms to achieve those goals, and say SustiNet needs to be re-examined in light of the federal law. ... But SustiNet supporters say ... [it] offers something else, they say: A large insurance pool that small businesses, nonprofits and individuals can buy into and a coordinated plan for delivery system changes (Becker, 2/25).

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Fulton-Grady Payments Dispute Coming To Boil
Some of the money to care for poor Fulton residents like Johnson is in jeopardy in an increasingly contentious contract dispute between the public hospital and Fulton County. Grady and county officials remain at odds over how to calculate the amount Fulton taxpayers should subsidize treatment for indigent and uninsured Fulton residents. Negotiations have reached an impasse, County Manager Zachary Williams reported to the commission earlier this month, as the two sides can't agree on a formula for subtracting federal funds administered through the state's Indigent Care Trust Fund program from the county's allotments (Edwards, 2/25).

Georgia Health News: Snapshots Of Health Care Legislation
The flurry of Georgia legislation targeting illegal immigrants includes a bill that would place a new reporting requirement on hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities. House Bill 296 would require those medical providers to count the illegal immigrants they treat, the type of services provided, the cost of the care, and the method of payment (Miller, 2/25).

The Washington Post: Va. Lawmakers End Annual Session With Increased Spending On Schools, Health Care
The Virginia General Assembly adjourned its annual legislative session Sunday evening after adopting revisions to the state's two-year budget that provides the first spending increases for schools and health care since the economic downturn began. ... Many measures passed the Republican-held House of Delegates, only to die in the Democrat-led state Senate, or vice versa. But the session ended with a dramatic fight over the emotional issue of abortion rights, as Republicans maneuvered the Senate into an unwanted late vote on a bill that requires abortion clinics to be regulated as hospitals (Helderman and Kunkle, 2/27).

The Sacramento Bee: Ruling On Medi-Cal Reimbursement Rates Next Week, Federal Judge Says
U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. said Friday he will rule next week on the California Hospital Association's motion for a preliminary injunction that would block a freeze of reimbursement rates to hospitals for inpatient care of Medi-Cal beneficiaries. ... The Legislature in October froze rates at the July 1, 2010, level for an indefinite period (Walsh, 2/26).

Kansas Health Institute News: Adverse Medical Outcomes Act OK'd By House
The [Kansas] House today passed 118-1 the adverse medical outcome transparency act, which would allow doctors to apologize to patients without fear that doing so could be used as an admission of guilt in a lawsuit. ... The bill would also allow doctors to waive charges for medical care without fear that doing so would be construed as an admission of guilt in court (2/25).

San Francisco Chronicle: Deadline For Coverage For Kids With Pre-Existing Health Conditions
Parents need to act fast if they want to make sure they get affordable coverage for their children with pre-existing health conditions. A new federal health law provision, which took effect Sept. 23, prohibits insurers from denying coverage to children with medical conditions. A state law goes even further by prohibiting insurers from charging more than double the rate of covering healthy children. But to qualify for the lower rates under the California law, parents must sign up before Tuesday (Colliver, 2/25).

San Francisco Chronicle: State Bill Brings Pain Sufferers Faster Relief
The old adage "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again" doesn't sit well with pain patients who are often forced to try several different drugs before their health insurer covers the treatment recommended by their doctor. A bill proposed by a Marin County lawmaker would limit that practice - known as "step therapy" or "fail first" - to two unsuccessful attempts. After the second failure, insurers would be required to pay for what the doctor prescribed. "Step therapy is used for lots of things, but the point of focusing on chronic pain sufferers is that truly this is an area where a person's physician ought to be able to call the shots on how to relieve this patient of pain," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, author of the bill, which was introduced earlier this month (Colliver, 2/26). 

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