KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Legal Immigrants Still Lack Care In Massachusetts; Ohio Hospitals Brace For New Fees

News outlets report on legal immigrants and the cost of health reform in Massachusetts, new hospital fees in Ohio, coverage shortfalls in Tennessee and registered nurse practitioners in Florida.

The Boston Globe: "More than 100 legal immigrants who were supposed to start receiving care yesterday under a new state health insurance plan will have to wait because the contractor hired to run the program has been unable to reach agreement with providers in Western Massachusetts. The immigrants, 123 in Pittsfield and 16 in Adams, are among roughly 5,000 in western and central Massachusetts who became eligible yesterday for coverage under the CeltiCare Health Plan of Massachusetts. But CeltiCare has been unable to negotiate contracts with hospitals in those two cities, said a state spokesman, Richard Powers" (Lazar, 12/2).

WBUR: "When people debate the status of Massachusetts health reform, the key question tends to be: Is it affordable? More than 97 percent of all people in the state now have health insurance. Some of them get it through state-subsidized health plans, but those subsidies cost nearly a billion dollars a year. Some critics say that has come at the expense of other needs, one of them being the state's safety net hospitals. Those are the hospitals that serve mostly poor patients, and many of them are in western Massachusetts and other places outside Boston" (Pfeiffer and Brown, 12/1).

The Associated Press/Hudson Hub-Times: "Ohio hospitals, which have been cutting staff and medical services amid the recession, are bracing for a new state fee that began Nov. 30. The new franchise fee is based on a percentage of operating expenses at each hospital. It is expected to raise $718 million to help balance the state budget. Federal money will help offset most of the cost because hospitals will be partially reimbursed with higher Medicaid payments. But hospitals will have to find a way to cover the remaining $145 million" (12/2).

The Tennessean: "As state funds run dry, Tennessee has cut off enrollment for two health insurance programs for low-income people, leaving the state at risk of a crisis, advocates say. Tennessee became the only state in the nation to have frozen enrollment for a children's health insurance program funded largely with federal money, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C. The state stopped accepting new CoverKids applicants on Monday. At the same time, the state stopped enrolling adults in CoverTN, an insurance program designed for the self-employed and working poor. ... With a projected $1.5 billion shortfall in the state's $29 billion budget and every department facing cuts, there is no extra money to go around" (Sanchez and Ross, 12/2).

Orlando Sentinel: "Every year for the past 16 years, the Florida Nurses Association has lobbied unsuccessfully to allow its most highly trained colleagues the right to prescribe painkillers and other controlled substances. When the new legislative session starts in March, the nurses once again will wage their war against the Florida Medical Association -- the group that represents doctors and is opposed to changing the law. But this time, the nurses will have a battlefield advantage. They will be armed with a 2008 state Senate report that recommends giving qualified registered nurse practitioners authority to write prescriptions for controlled substances. The number of states that prohibit such authority has shrunk to just two: Florida and Alabama" (Quintero, 12/2).

Health News Florida: "Florida's Attorney General's office has filed suit against a Tampa firm that it says made and sold more than 1,000 pricey back-pain therapy machines to physicians nationwide through 'false, deceptive or misleading advertising.' Most of the doctors were chiropractors." The company is Axiom Worldwide, and Health News Florida notes that "Among other misleading statements, the complaint filed Nov. 19 in Hillsborough Circuit Court says, Axiom called its DRX 9000 spinal decompression system 'the eighth wonder of the world'" (Gentry, 12/1).

The Florida Times-Union reports on a Jacksonville area program that is designed to "steer people who get most of their medical care in emergency rooms into a doctor's office" instead. "The people who joined the program in April and May were a sick bunch, having been hospitalized a total of 41 days over the previous three months. One of the program's goals is to envelop such patients in a 'system of care' ... that aims to prevent chronic health problems from sending these patients to a hospital." The effort is part of increasing national emphasis on prevention of medical problems. "President Barack Obama, for one, has emphasized repeatedly the importance of including wellness initiatives in a reform plan. Millions in economic stimulus money went toward creating and expanding preventive-care programs, and both health overhaul bills before the House and Senate are loaded with preventive measures" (Cox, 12/1).

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