KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Roundup: Duluth, Minn., Seeking To Change Retiree Health Benefits

The Boston Globe: James Mongan, A Doctor With Political Skills, Dies At 69
Dr. James Mongan, a physician with a specialty in politics who for decades helped shape the health care debate in Washington, D.C., and the Commonwealth, and who formerly served as president of Massachusetts General Hospital and Partners HealthCare, died in MGH yesterday (Marquard, 5/4).

The Associated Press/Boston Globe: Vt. Lawmakers Reach Agreement On Health Care
Major health reform legislation working its way through the Vermont Legislature has won final approval in the Senate, with the House expected to follow suit. ... The bill would put Vermont on a path toward universal health care, but it leaves until later several major decisions about how the program will work. Among them: how the system will be paid for, what benefits it will offer, and whether illegal immigrants will be covered by it (5/3).

Miami Herald: Lawmakers Agree on $68 Billion Budget, Tax Cuts
In secret talks, top legislators and Gov. Rick Scott hatched a $68-billion budget deal involving a rather simple trade: tax cuts for hometown spending. So lawmakers Tuesday quickly agreed to spend, spend, spend about $156-million on their hometown districts in projects that fund county health departments, a regatta center, meals for seniors, college buildings, a botanical garden and veterans' programs. Still, there were big budget losers: Hospitals statewide will face a $510-million cut, or 12 percent, in Medicaid reimbursements (Caputo and Bousquet, 5/3).

The Associated Press/Christian Science Monitor: Retiree Health Insurance: Can Duluth Change The Rules?
The Minnesota Supreme Court is considering whether the City of Duluth can change its retiree health insurance benefits to match those of its current employees. At issue is as much as $60 million in savings for the city over the next 30 years. The retirees sued the city three years ago, claiming it did not have the authority to change the health benefits it provided them at the date of their retirement. The city argues that it's required by contract to provide retirees with the same type of insurance coverage it gives its current employees (5/3).

Reuters: Medical Marijuana Faces Tough Curbs In Montana
Many if not most of Montana's 4,800 medical marijuana suppliers will be forced out of business within two months under a newly passed overhaul of the state's 7-year-old law legalizing pot for medicinal purposes. The state legislature approved the bill last week in answer to critics who said loopholes in the original 2004 medical marijuana law enacted by ballot measure were being exploited by some as a pretext for recreational pot smoking and large-scale drug trafficking (Ritter, 5/3).

The Connecticut Mirror: Feds Say Increased Premiums For Husky B Violate Law
The state violated federal law when it increased the premiums for many of those receiving the state's Husky B health insurance plan, the state Department of Social Services has announced. The state is required by the Affordable Care Act to maintain current premium levels; it is now in the process of reimbursing clients who paid the increased rates. Enrollment numbers indicate the increased premiums did not impact the number of people who dropped their Husky B insurance for nonpayment (Rabe, 5/3).

Earlier, related KHN story: States May Face Showdown With Feds Over Cutting Medicaid Rolls (Werber Serafini and Appleby, 2/3).

The Texas Tribune: Institutions For Disabled Unlikely To See Major Cuts
Advocates for shuttering Texas' 13 institutions for the disabled thought they had the numbers on their side: a budget crisis so severe lawmakers would have no choice but to close some state-supported living centers. But with less than a month left in the [l]egislative session, their hopes of closing more than one facility and establishing a moratorium on new admissions are largely dashed. ... Opponents of institutionalized care for the disabled have pushed unsuccessfully for years to close Texas' state-supported living centers, which have come under intense scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Justice because of reports of abusive conditions. Families of residents at the facilities have fought back hard - defending the care their loved ones receive, and saying conditions are no better, or maybe even worse, in group homes in the community (Ramshaw, 5/4).

The Texas Tribune: House Gives Early OK to Rural Hospitals Hiring Docs
The House has tentatively voted to let rural, critical-access hospitals in counties with populations of 50,000 or less hire doctors - partially lifting a long-standing ban on hospitals directly employing physicians. ... [T]he state's largest physician organization has argued for years that Texas' ban on hospitals hiring doctors keeps a physician's medical judgment free from interference by hospital administrators, who must worry about their bottom line. But they too have expressed strong support for this measure (Ramshaw, 4/3).

The Lund Report: Regulators To Hold Rare Public Hearing On Regence
The Oregon Insurance Division announced today it plans to hold a rare public hearing for a proposed 22.1 percent average premium increase on Regence BlueCross BlueShield individual plan holders. The rate increase would affect nearly 60,000 policyholders, the largest pool of individual members in Oregon (Rosenfeld, 5/3).

The Lund Report: Senate Passes Bill To Prevent Medicaid Disputes
The [Oregon] Senate today unanimously passed a bill that attempts to avoid a similar dispute between Medicaid managed care organizations that occurred last year when a Portland-area pediatric group terminated its contract with CareOregon. ... The group had recently ... signed a new deal with FamilyCare. Rather than transfer those families directly, state officials offered them a choice, which had the potential to sow confusion and disrupt care. The fracas left a sour taste in many of those involved (Rosenfeld, 5/3). 

Denver Post: Republican Support For Health Exchange Bill Lukewarm In House-At Best
Sponsored in the House by Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, the bill passed the House Health and Environment Committee on a 9-4 vote Tuesday, with three Republicans joining six Democrats to vote in favor of the bill. Despite the apparent lackluster support from Republicans on the committee, Stephens said she was "confident" the bill would get the needed 33 votes in the House – where Republicans hold a 33-32 majority – though she conceded some of those votes would have to come from Democrats. "I think you're going to see a good many Republican votes" in favor of the bill, she said, without venturing a guess as to how many that might be (Hoover, 5/3).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: At-Risk Aid Is At Risk
The Republican-led Senate has proposed eliminating state grants for school-linked mental health services -- even though they were a linchpin of a major package of mental health reforms created by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2007. Advocates, while acknowledging that cuts must be made to close the state's deficit, say cutting such mental health care will be counterproductive -- leading to more spending on juvenile justice, special education and inpatient psychiatric care. The Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is conducting protests at the Capitol this week to oppose $40 million in proposed Senate cuts and to highlight data showing the effectiveness of the services (Olson, 5/3).

Des Moines Register: Iowa's Mental Health Reform Needs More Review, Lawmakers Say
Parts of Iowa's mental health system have been broken for years, both Democrats and Republicans agree. Hundreds of people remain on waiting lists and some families – particularly in rural areas – don't have the same levels of care or options that are available in urban areas. Lawmakers this legislative session allocated an additional $20 million to trim the mental health waiting lists in the current fiscal year. But unless lawmakers can work out a long-term solution, most agree the lists will grow again (Clayworth, 5/3).

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