KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Roundup: Health Costs Cloud Budget Forecasts; Minn. To Use HMO Refund On Personal Care

Reuters: Outlook Still Grim For US State, Local Budgets-GAO
U.S. state and local governments' fiscal situations have improved recently but will still deteriorate through 2060, the Government Accountability Office said on Thursday. ... The outlook remains gloomy for the future, with healthcare costs, both for public employees and for the Medicaid insurance program for the poor, swelling and weighing on budgets, GAO said. "Specifically, state and local expenditures on Medicaid and the cost of healthcare compensation for state and local government employees and retirees are projected to grow more than GDP (gross domestic product)," it said (4/5).

(St. Paul) Pioneer Press: Senate Passes Health Bill Restoring Pay For Some Personal Care Attendants
The Senate passed a health and human services bill Thursday, April 5, that includes about $22 million in new spending based on an expected repayment of funds from the state's nonprofit HMOs. On Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton announced that health plans would repay $73 million to the state and federal governments this summer because of a 1 percent cap on HMO profits during 2011. The cap applied to health plan earnings on their business managing care for patients in the state's largest public health insurance programs. Legislators expect the federal government - which jointly funds the state programs - will get $38 million of the total (Snowbeck, 4/5).

The Associated Press/Denver Post: Colorado Health Department Offering Remote Tests
Colorado health officials are offering Medicaid patients the option of doing routine health checks from home. ... State officials say the program will save money by reducing the number of unnecessary emergency room and hospital visits (4/5).

The Sacramento Bee / California Watch: Neglect, Health Concerns Envelope Poor County Areas In California
"It's like people are living in colonies of the United States," said Miguel Donoso, a longtime Latino community advocate in Stanislaus County. "Living in a Third World country, that's close to what you see here today." Statewide, PolicyLink, an Oakland-based public policy research and advocacy institute, estimates that 1.8 million low-income and often Spanish-speaking Californians live in such communities, many without the infrastructure that would curb gastrointestinal illnesses, respiratory disease symptoms, and other public health and safety risks (Yeung, 4/6).

Boston Globe: Primary Care Physician Groups Rated On Preventive Care In New Report
Massachusetts Health Quality Partners, a non-profit organization that has tracked physician performance for 8 years, released its latest ratings of physician practices on Thursday. The report shows how well primary care doctors do at providing their patients with preventive care, such as colon cancer screening, and treating chronic disease care such as diabetes. The group found that Massachusetts primary care physicians continue to provide high-quality care overall, although notable differences in quality exist (Kowalczyk, 4/5).

WBUR: Report Finds 40% Differences In Mass. Primary Docs’ Quality
Attention, primary care patients, which means just about all of us. A new study from Massachusetts Health Quality Partners finds that the state remains a great place to be a patient, and it’s getting even better. But there are some major disparities among medical groups in performance as measured by MHQP’s quality indicators, from testing for strep throat before prescribing antibiotics to using scans to diagnose lower back pain (Goldberg, 4/5).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Minnesota Legislature Approves Tougher Elder-Abuse Bill
Minnesota lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a measure that would, for the first time, punish abusive caregivers with prison time and significant fines if they severely neglect elderly and vulnerable adults. The bill, which has the support of Gov. Mark Dayton, creates a felony provision in state law that would target caregivers who intentionally deprive vulnerable adults of food, clothing, shelter, health care or supervision. Elder advocates and prosecutors say it will close a gaping loophole that for years left vulnerable people without proper protection (Schrade, 4/5).

The Associated Press: Nevada Working To Curb Backroom Doctors, Dentists
Nevada state health officials are trying to cope more effectively with phony providers. A former Nevada state attorney general is heading a task force examining the issue, and the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, has been commissioned to document reports of unlicensed care in the state's Hispanic community. The goal is to provide recommendations in June for the state Legislature (Silva and Ritter, 4/5).

The Associated Press/Houston Chronicle: No Viral Infections Found In Clinic’s Patients
Mississippi health officials say none of the nearly 300 cancer patients they tested from a defunct clinic have contracted viral blood infections such as HIV because of care at the facility, which is suspected of diluting chemotherapy drugs and using old needles. The Mississippi Health Department closed Rose Cancer Center in Summit in July because of "unsafe infection control practices" after 11 patients were hospitalized with the same bacterial infection. Health Department spokeswoman Liz Sharlot told The Associated Press that the department sent out two rounds of letters to former patients advising them they could come in for tests (Mohr, 4/5).

Associated Press/Minneapolis Star Tribune: Prenatal Care Proposal For Illegal Immigrants Divides Nebraska Lawmakers, Frustrates Governor
The issues of illegal immigration and abortion have split Nebraska's Republican-dominated politics, with some conservatives supporting a plan to offer state aid to pregnant women in the country illegally and others arguing that doing so would violate a bedrock GOP belief. The measure has made opponents of typical allies, with Republican Gov. Dave Heineman pushing hard against the proposal, even while noting his strong opposition to abortion. The Republican speaker of the Legislature, Mike Flood, has taken the opposite position, supporting the measure while stating that he has always been against illegal immigration (Schulte, 4/5).

Detroit Free Press: AARP: Michigan Too Quick To Put Elderly In Nursing Homes
When it comes to long-term care, Michigan is too quick to place its elderly in nursing homes, according to a new report by the AARP Michigan. In fact, 35 states spend fewer Medicaid dollars — the bulk of the funding for long-term care — on nursing homes, instead finding ways to help seniors age in place, said Lisa Dedden Cooper, author of the report (Erb, 4/5).

Health News Florida: WellCare Ready To Roll, Analysts Say
WellCare Health Plans has spent the past five years in the doghouse, trying to live down evidence of massive Medicaid fraud against Florida and eight other states. Now, the Tampa-based company has a clear field ahead, Wall Street analysts say. Criminal charges that have been pending since 2009 have been dropped, and a settlement of $137.5 million for governments and whistleblowers is now official. Florida's share of the settlement will be more than $54 million, Attorney General Pam Bondi announced on Wednesday (Gentry, 4/5).

The Wall Street Journal: Outbreak Of Rabies Puts City On Edge
Rabid skunks are causing a stink in Carlsbad, N.M. After 15 years without a confirmed case of rabies, the southeastern New Mexico county where Carlsbad is the county seat has seen about 30 skunks test positive for rabies since December. ... Rabid skunks have tangled with dogs, cats and sheep in the area, requiring more than 30 pets and farm animals to be euthanized, Dr. (Paul) Ettestad said. A dozen people in the county have received rabies shots as a precaution, but no humans have exhibited symptoms of rabies, a virus that typically is fatal in humans if not treated quickly (Koppel, 4/5).

Modern Healthcare: Utah Reports Breach Of 24,000 Medicaid Claims
Hackers believed to be operating out of Eastern Europe gained access to around 24,000 Medicaid claims housed on a Utah Technology Services Department server, according to the state's health department. The Utah Health Department stated in a news release that the state's tech services department, which operates the server containing the Medicaid claims, gave notice of the breach on Monday evening. The breach itself appears to have occurred Friday, according to the release (Conn, 4/5).

CT Mirror: Supreme Court Health Care Decision Likely To Spark Fight In Connecticut Senate Race
The Supreme Court's decision on the constitutionality of the health care act will put the justices on the front lines of political campaigns this summer and likely fire up Connecticut's Senate race. The Supreme Court will issue a ruling, probably in late June, that would uphold the Affordable Care Act, toss out the whole law, or reject its mandate to buy health insurance. But no matter what the justices' decision is, analysts say the outcome will be political fodder for Republican candidates like Linda McMahon and former Rep. Chris Shays, who are running for the seat of retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (Radelat, 4/5).

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