KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Roundup: Kan., Calif. Budget Cuts; Texas NICU Costs; Katrina Trial

San Francisco Chronicle: Programs That Were Cut In State Budget  
[This list of programs cut in the California state budget includes a 10 percent reduction in what the state pays for Medi-Cal patients at all long-term care facilities $172.3 million and a 10 percent reduction in what the state pays to physicians who see people on Medi-Cal] (3/19). 

Kansas Health Institute News: Governor Proposes Deeper Cuts In Mental-Health Spending
Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed cutting the budget for community mental health centers by an additional $17 million. ... The state's total spending on the community mental health centers for the current fiscal year is expected to be $221.5 million. The governor's latest proposal would reduce that total spending to about $196.3 million in fiscal 2012. ... Kansas operates three state-run hospitals for the mentally ill. "Let me remind you that all three hospitals are full," [Mike Hammond, executive director at the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas] said (Ranney, 3/18).

The Texas Tribune: Maternity Wards, NICUs Face Budget Scrutiny
State health officials, searching for solutions to Texas' multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, have set their sights on ... neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs, which they fear are being overbuilt and overused by hospitals eager to profit from the high-cost care - and by doctors too quick to offer pregnant mothers elective inductions and Caesarean sections before their babies are full term. ... Couple Texas' high birth rate, low health insurance coverage and limited prenatal care with the growth of in vitro fertilization, multiple-baby births and so-called geriatric - or past the age of 35 - pregnancies, hospital administrators say, and you have a full NICU (Ramshaw, 3/20).

Modern Healthcare: Cost Controls Key To Widening Insurance Coverage, Mass. Blues Report Says
Expanding health insurance coverage is unsustainable without cost controls, and moderating health spending is difficult, according to an assessment of Massachusetts' health reform by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation. In a new report, the foundation outlines lessons learned from the state's universal healthcare program, enacted in 2006 (Vesely, 3/19). 

The Sacramento Bee: Medco Stung By Loss Of CalPERS Contract
Last week Medco Health Solutions Inc. of Franklin Lakes, N.J., ... was dumped by the California Public Employees' Retirement System amid allegations that it had made questionable payments to a middleman. ... The investigator said Medco hired middleman Alfred Villalobos to help win the CalPERS drug-benefit contract. On Friday, the company acknowledged in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it did hire Villalobos. It said he was brought on board "primarily" to offer advice with a huge audit Medco was facing over previous work done for CalPERS – not, as the investigator said, to help win a new contract (Casler, 3/20). 

The New York Times: Trial To Open In Lawsuit Connected To Hospital Deaths After Katrina
A jury trial set to open on Monday will weigh whether one of America's largest health care corporations should be held accountable for deaths and injuries at a New Orleans hospital marooned by floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina. ... Staff members at Memorial said they did their best in the face of inhuman conditions  (Fink, 3/20).

Connecticut Mirror: Nursing Homes Get Two Prospective Buyers, But Closure Hearing Still Going Forward
Two prospective buyers expressed interested in one or more of the four nursing homes in state receivership Friday, but a Superior Court judge declined to reschedule an upcoming hearing on a motion to close the homes. ... Kevin A. Creane, an attorney for the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, argued that holding a hearing on closing the homes would lead the staff, residents and families to assume they were closing, causing residents to leave. ... But Assistant Attorney General Henry A. Salton argued that ... [w]hile the homes are in receivership, the state Department of Social Services is covering losses of about $1.7 million a month (Becker 3/18).

Health News Florida: Unions Small But Gaining Ground
Even though public sentiment, state laws and court opinions make labor organizing an uphill struggle in Florida, the number of unionized health-care workers in Florida has risen by a third over the past year. ... Most of the new unions have started in facilities owned by Hospital Corporation of America, which struck private agreements with national unions not to interfere with organizing at some of its hospitals in return for leaving others alone. Workers say they want respect, higher nurse-to-patient ratios, due process when something goes wrong and better compensation. ... From a hospital's viewpoint, unions can divide the workplace, restrict management's ability to make decisions and cut profits (Davis, 3/18).

Georgia Health News: A Tea Party Threat To Public Health Bill?
It appears straightforward, noncontroversial. The bill would move the state's Public Health unit out of its current department and make it an independent agency, reporting directly to the governor. ... But some supporters are concerned that Tea Party activists, who helped sidetrack legislation to create a health insurance exchange, now may be targeting the Public Health bill for defeat. Those backing the Public Health bill cite an e-mail to legislators from Bill Evelyn, director of the State of Georgia Tea Party, which says the House approval is "the first step"' in implementing the health care reform law in Georgia (Miller, 3/17). 

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