KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Roundup: Ill. Insurer To Buy Montana Blues; Calif. Nurses Plan Strike

News outlets report on health news from California, Florida, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Washington and Wyoming.

The New York Times: In Wyoming, Conservatives Feeling Left Behind
But since the election, a blanket of baffled worry has descended on conservatives here like early snow across the plains, deepening a sense that traditional, rural and overwhelmingly white states in the center of the country are losing touch with an increasingly diverse and urban American electorate. ... People said their worries about the next four more years had little to do with Mr. Obama's race, or even Democratic policies on abortion, same-sex marriage and birth control. Wyoming's conservatism has some strong libertarian hues. What worries conservatives here is that an increasingly diverse and Democratic polity will embrace health care mandates, higher domestic spending and a bigger government role in people's economic lives (Healy, 11/18).

Kaiser Health News: Stuart Altman's Huge Challenge: Bring Down Mass. Health Costs
Massachusetts is the first state to say that health care costs must stop increasing faster than that of most other goods and services. Prof. Stuart Altman, a Brandeis economist who advised President Richard Nixon on health policy and President Bill Clinton on Medicare, has responsibility for helping the state achieve that goal. ... WBUR's Martha Bebinger spoke with Altman about the challenge (Bebinger, 11/18).

Kaiser Health News: Four NYC Hospitals Still Closed By Hurricane Sandy
Three weeks after Hurricane Sandy, four New York City hospitals remain closed for inpatients, leaving thousands of patients scrambling to find other medical centers to treat everything from broken bones to brain cancer. The closures of NYU Langone Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital Center, the Manhattan VA Medical Center, and Coney Island Hospital have meant more business for some nearby hospitals and an unwelcome extra burden for others (Mogul, 11/18). 

Modern Healthcare: Mont. Blues Seeks OK For HCSC Deal
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana has filed for regulatory approval for its proposed deal with Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in four other states. The insurer said in a news release that it submitted paperwork to the Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance as well as the Montana attorney general. Under the transaction, the companies will contribute about $120 million to set up a charitable foundation focused on improving quality and access to healthcare programs in Montana. Health Care Service Corp. will spend about $18 million to acquire some of the assets of Montana Blues and will assume certain liabilities (Kutscher, 11/16).

(Helena, Mt.) Independent Record: Blue Cross Montana Files Documents On Merger, Will Create $100 Million-Plus Foundation
Blue Cross said Friday that merging with a large nonprofit will preserve Blue Cross’s longstanding mission and nonprofit status, while giving it access to capital and other services it will need to compete in a dramatically changing health insurance market. ... Blue Cross will be transferring the business of its 274,000 customers to HCSC, along with assets such as its provider network of 2,000 physicians, all Montana hospitals and 2,800 other health care providers. Blue Cross is calling the transaction an “alliance” with HCSC, and says it will maintain its name and operate locally with the same local management team, although its employees will become employees of HCSC (Dennison, 11/16).

The San Francisco Chronicle: Nurses To Strike Bay Area Hospitals Again
Registered nurses represented by the California Nurses Association have barely had time to put away their picket signs from the last strike, and they're preparing to walk off their jobs again over a long-standing contract dispute. Unionized nurses plan to strike Tuesday at a number of Bay Area hospitals operated by Sutter Health, the largest being Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland and Berkeley. This will be the seventh strike against Sutter since September 2011 and the second one this month (Colliver, 11/18).

The Seattle Times: Hospital Cuts Add To Oversupply Of Health-Care Workers
A dozen years ago, hospital leaders, state officials and political leaders were wringing their hands about a looming shortage of nurses and other health-care workers. Hospitals were expanding, and health-care workers — particularly the most highly trained nurses — could almost pick and choose their jobs. But a combination of events, including the recession, hospital cost-cutting and a sharp increase in the number of workers being trained, revised that equation (Ostrom, 11/18).

The Miami Herald: Fallout From Privatizing Prison Health Care: Layoffs
Nearly 2,000 state workers are being displaced from Florida Gov. Rick Scott's administration because of the nation's biggest outsourcing of prison health care. "Due to the outsourcing of this function, your position will be deleted," reads a dryly worded dismissal notice from the Department of Corrections, sent to 1,890 state employees in the past two weeks. ... The latest outsourcing is still not a sure thing. Labor unions representing many affected workers will be back in court Monday, challenging the state’s authority to outsource health care without specific legislative direction (Bousquet, 11/18).

Related KHN story: States Efforts To Outsource Prison Health Care Come Under Scrutiny

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