KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Roundup: The Effects Of Proposed Calif. Budget Cuts; Fewer Free Vaccinations In Texas

California Watch: Kids’ Access To Health Care A Concern Under Brown’s Budget
Low-income children in rural California communities are in jeopardy of losing their doctors and health care plans under Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal, state lawmakers, doctors and health advocates say. The governor is proposing to transfer nearly 900,000 children enrolled in Healthy Families, the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, to Medi-Cal – a program aimed at serving the state’s poorest families, seniors and disabled residents. While combining the two programs might be a painless transition for children in urban areas with doctors who typically provide care to both Healthy Families and Medi-Cal patients, the transfer could severely limit access to health care for those on the outskirts (Snyder, 5/29).

San Francisco Chronicle: Calif. Children's Medical Therapy Facing Cuts
Nicolas Ayer is, in many ways, a typical 3-year-old boy. ... Nico suffered a stroke shortly before or after he was born and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy within 36 hours of his birth. That early diagnosis resulted in his nearly immediate entrance into a state-funded program that provides medical therapy to children with special needs. ... But the California Children's Services' Medical Therapy Program will soon be out of reach for Nico's family and thousands of other Californians if lawmakers approve a budget proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown, who is trying to close a $15.7 billion shortfall in the state's general fund (Lagos, 5/28).

Reuters: California Tobacco Tax Measure Risks Going Up In Smoke
Health-conscious Californians may mostly oppose smoking for its costs to public health and the economy but an aggressive tobacco industry campaign and general anti-tax sentiment may block a measure to raise taxes on smokers. Airwaves in the most populous U.S. state are filling up with advertising for and against Proposition 29, a June 5 ballot measure that would add a $1 tax to a pack of cigarettes, taking the tax to $1.87, mainly to fund medical research on tobacco usage and programs to prevent and control it (Christie, 5/25).

Kaiser Health News: Louisville's Strategy: Stick With The Old Folks
Writing for Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with The Washington Post, Frank Browning reports: "This city of 570,000 people is generally recognized as the home of the Kentucky Derby, mint juleps and bourbon. But few outsiders know it also hosts the largest concentration of nursing-home and extended-care companies in the nation" (Browning, 5/28). 

The Dallas Morning News: State Rule Change Means Most Insured Kids Won’t Get Free School Vaccinations This Year
A change in the rules on free childhood vaccinations has some local school districts uneasy about the start of school this fall. The Texas Vaccines for Children Program will now be basically available only to kids with no insurance. The state figures that will mean about 500,000 doses given out under the old rules won’t be available for free this year (Weiss, 5/28). 

Baltimore Sun: Safety-Net Funds Are Cut As Number Of Needy Marylanders Hits Record Levels
Demand has been so high that the Department of Human Resources, which helps Maryland families with child care, cash and food assistance, and medical services, was forced to request an additional $30 million in state funding in fiscal 2012. The shortfall occurred even though federal funding for the department has doubled from about $1 billion to nearly $2 billion each year since before the recession began (Johnston, Straumsheim and McGonigle, 5/27).

The New York Times: Logistics Hang Over A Ruling On 9/11 Cancer
(Patricia) Workman and others who believe their cancers were caused by toxic substances released by the fall of the World Trade Center are due to learn this week whether they may be treated and compensated from a $4.3 billion fund set aside by Congress. An advisory committee in March found justification for covering 14 broad categories of cancer, raising expectations that the fund would cover at least some of them. But such a decision would create a logistical quagmire, advocates for patients and government officials conceded, and could strain the fund’s resources (Hartocollis, 5/28).

The Washington Post: Reedville Country Doctor Just Wants To Have Fun
(Dr. Emory) Lewis is one of five doctors, by his count, in Northumberland County. He doesn’t embody the trends in medicine so much as he defies them. He’s a doctor who still makes house calls. His patients are mostly Medicare-eligible, and they supplement the doctor’s reimbursements with gifts of home-canned relish and menhaden roe. Lewis has no interest in assembly-line medicine. “A lot of times that’s therapeutic, just to talk to people,” he says. He knows his patients and their parents and their parents’ parents, and remembers which families have a history of diabetes (Achenbach, 5/27).

Baltimore Sun: University of Maryland, Baltimore To Revamp Teaching On Pain
As part of a federal project aimed at better treating pain, the University of Maryland, Baltimore will begin revamping the way it teaches future doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists. ... A pain consortium of two dozen NIH agencies received 56 proposals and picked 11 universities to be Centers of Excellence in Pain Education. Over the next three years, they are expected to develop courses in assessing, diagnosing and treating pain, and avoiding abuse of prescription painkillers (Cohn, 5/26).

HealthyCal: Project Focuses On Keeping Patients Well
The image of a harried doctor dashing among patients and issuing brusque orders is familiar to almost anyone who has set foot in a physician’s office. But that default model of care is rife with opportunities for missed maladies, garbled instructions and disillusion with the patient-caregiver relationship. … [One] group is part of a pilot program to implement the “medical home” model of care for about 2,400 participants in the Fresno Unified School District’s health insurance plan. The patient-centered approach dates to the late ’60s, when pediatricians started formally recommending that children get a central home for their medical records to guard against “fragmented care” (Brown, 5/29).

Kansas Health Institute: Kansas Breaks Ground On Statewide Digital Health Network
Developers of a new statewide digital health records exchange say the needed secure network is coming to Kansas this summer. They call it a groundbreaking event that is expected to improve patient care and help cut medical costs by avoiding redundant and ineffective treatments. It’s also expected to reduce errors (Cauthon, 5/28).

Kansas Health Institute: Health Information Exchange: An Interview With Dr. Joe Davidson
An interview with Dr. Joe Davison, chair of the Kansas Health Information Exchange board and a Wichita family physician. Davison provides some background and insight on the health information exchange set to go live in July in Kansas (McLean, 5/28).

Minnesota Public Radio: Minn. Doctors Seek Streamlined Drug Prescriptions
The Minnesota Medical Association, the state's largest doctors' group, says it wants to work with health plans and their drug benefit decision-makers in developing a more streamlined approval process. Janet Silversmith of the medical association says physicians often find the process burdensome because the list of approved drugs varies from plan to plan and changes frequently (Stawicki, 5/27).

St. Louis Beacon: CDC’S New Threshold For Lead Poisoning Means More Children In Missouri Are At Risk
The number of Missouri children facing risks from lead poisoning has risen sharply because a federal agency has lowered the threshold, saying youngsters can be harmed by ingesting even tiny amounts of lead. Until recently, children were thought to be harmed if the level of lead in their bodies was as low as 10 micrograms for each deciliter of blood. About two weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reduced the threshold to five micrograms (Joiner, 5/29).

California Healthline: Community Dental Beneficiaries Go to Liberty
Community Dental Services health plan, plagued with financial troubles and quality-of-care problems, has shut down its managed care dental plan in Sacramento and Los Angeles counties. On Friday, the state announced that all 16,000 Medi-Cal beneficiaries at CDS, the bulk of them in Sacramento County, would switch to Liberty Dental Plan of California. Also making the change will be 4,000 non-Medi-Cal patients (Gorn, 5/29).

Chicago Sun-Times: House Democrats Unveiling Pension Reform Plan
Opposed by labor unions, the plan aims to steer current employees and retirees away from automatic, 3 percent, post-retirement cost-of-living increases by limiting access to state-subsidized health care (McKinney, 5/29).

Georgia Health News: Federal Rule Change Rocks HIV Programs
HIV/AIDS service programs say a rule change by a federal agency would squeeze their budgets to the point that they may not be able to serve as many patients. The Health Resources and Services Administration is now requiring that rent, utilities and insurance costs be classified as administrative expenses under parts of the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS program. As such, these costs will be charged to the administrative cap of 10 percent of the total amount awarded. That means many HIV service programs will have to seek other ways to cover those expenses (Miller 5/28).

Modern Healthcare: Prevention Attention
Earlier this year, Partners HealthCare awarded nearly $1 million to support health prevention programs in four eastern Massachusetts cities served by the system's hospitals. While Boston-based Partners has funded some local prevention programs for years, the financial commitment reflects a greater focus by the health system to look at the role prevention can play in lowering costs, notably as Partners moves forward as one of the participants in the CMS' Pioneer model for accountable care organizations (Lee, 5/26).

Detroit Free Press: Union Dues Can No Longer Be Withheld From Michigan Home Health Care Workers
Union dues will no longer be withheld from state payments to about 60,000 Michigan home health care workers after Attorney General Bill Schuette's office said Friday the payments are illegal under a law enacted last month. Angela Minicuci, spokeswoman for the Department of Community Health, said Friday that dues withholding will stop "immediately" based on the statement from Schuette's office upholding legislation that declared that employees hired to provide personal care services to Medicaid recipients are not government employees subject to union organizing (Bell, 5/26).

Los Angeles Times: Target Of Maryland Abortion Protesters Turns Tables On Them
(Todd) Stave, 44, son of a doctor who performed abortions and whose office was once firebombed, decided to fight back. Targeted because he rents an office to one of the nation's best-known abortion practitioners, he turned the tables, gathering volunteers to call abortion protesters at home (Knezevich, 5/27).

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