KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Roundup: Medicaid Cuts Cause Unusual Bedfellows

The Arizona Republic: Arizona Health-Care Groups, Gov. Brewer To Meet
Representatives from Arizona hospitals, nursing homes and health plans are set to meet with Gov. Jan Brewer today. They hope to win her support for a plan to impose a tax on their institutions and avoid deep cuts to Arizona's Medicaid program. The plan reportedly includes a cap on funding for childless adults, a group now covered under the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System that could lose coverage Oct. 1. (Reinhart, 3/11). 

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Health-Care Advocates See Future Pain In Corbett Budget 
Unlike governors of both parties in some other states, Gov. Corbett has not proposed killing any major medical-assistance programs or cutting eligibility. Spending in his budget plan is up slightly in several areas, leaving advocates for the elderly, poor, and disabled pleasantly surprised. That feeling may be fleeting. In the short term, Corbett's budget for the fiscal year that will begin July 1 factors in hundreds of millions of dollars in anticipated savings from "cost containment," "promoting competition," and other strategies that are not yet detailed but would come largely from reduced payments to hospitals, nursing homes, and other providers (Sapatkin, 3/14). 

The Wall Street Journal: Cuomo Budget Plan Under Siege By Democrats
Assembly Democrats are attempting to block major pieces of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget plan, advancing measures over the weekend that would preserve higher tax rates for millionaires and knock out the administration's proposal to impose a cap on medical malpractice awards. Both houses of the Legislature are submitting spending plans on Tuesday (Gershman, 3/14).

Kaiser Health News: Haley Barbour Draws Fire For Medicaid Changes In Mississippi
[Gov.] Barbour, who's considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination, is unapologetic. In his seven years as governor he has irritated advocates for the poor with cost-cutting changes and a controversial requirement that most recipients appear in person every year to re-establish eligibility. Now he wants virtual carte blanche authority to reshape the federal-state Medicaid program, which is why he was in Washington, urging Congress and the Obama administration to give states greater flexibility (Appleby, 3/13).

Minnesota Public Radio: Minn. GOP Senators Take Aim At Public Worker Benefits
Under a proposal two GOP state senators will announce Monday, some workers would have to increase contributions to their pensions by more than half. ... "We're just asking them, our good government employees, to take more responsibility for their own retirement," said Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca. ... Parry also wants to shift state workers from a traditional health insurance plan to a high-deductible plan paired with a $2,500 contribution to a health savings account for workers and their families (Nelson, 3/14). 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: More Districts Now Could Dump Union's Insurance Arm
In freeing school boards from bargaining with employees over anything but inflation-capped wage increases, Wisconsin lawmakers might have opened the floodgates for districts seeking to drop coverage by the state's dominant - and highly controversial - health insurance provider for teachers. WEA Trust, the nonprofit company started 40 years ago by the state's largest teachers union, currently insures employees in about two-thirds of Wisconsin school districts. The company's market dominance has dropped in recent years (Hetzner, 3/13).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Low-Income Elderly Could Lose Drug Plan
Gov. Scott Walker's proposed two-year budget would effectively end the state's SeniorCare prescription drug program in its current form, forcing tens of thousands of people to enroll in more-expensive private plans available through Medicare Part D. The SeniorCare program, introduced in 2001, provides low-cost prescription drug coverage to low-income people over 65. About 91,000 people are in the program, and for most of them, switching to private coverage could cost hundreds of dollars more per year.  ... The administration has said that people won't see any change in benefits (Boulton, 3/13).

Pioneer Press: Rates Of Certain Surgeries In Some Minnesota Cities Above The National Average
Medicare patients in Stillwater are about twice as likely to have their knees replaced as their peers about 100 miles downriver in Winona. ... Knee replacement is an example of an elective or "preference-sensitive" procedure, said Dr. David Goodman, a study author with of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. Whereas medical evidence clearly dictates what treatment option is best in some cases, there are other problems - such as dealing with arthritic knee pain - where patients can select between surgical and nonsurgical options, he said. Whether some regions become big providers of these procedures is generally driven by the relative enthusiasm for the operations among surgeons and physicians in a community (Snowbeck, 3/12).

WBUR's CommonHealth Blog: Analysis: Nursing Staff Levels At Tufts Medical Center Trail Competitors, Data Suggest
There's a heated dispute currently underway between the Massachusetts Nurses Association - specifically the 1,200 RN's at Tufts Medical Center - and management at the hospital. They are engaged in contract negotiations that haven't been pretty. The nurses accuse the hospital of allowing staffing levels to fall so low over the past year that patient care has slipped and conditions have become dangerous. ... The hospital, in response, says its care has in no way faltered, and that the complaints are part of a national union strategy to boost the nurses' bargaining power (Zimmerman, 3/11). 

The Kansas City Star: How Many Minutes To See The Doctor? Some ERs Want You To Know
Some hospitals are posting emergency room waiting times so patients can shop for the quickest "greet and treat" in their neighborhood. ... This new consumer-friendly technology comes as Americans are getting an increasing amount of medical care through emergency rooms. The number of ER visits has been rising steadily, from 90 million in 1996 to 119 million in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Bavley, 3/13).

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