KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

full issue

State Highlights: N.H. Officials Offer More Facts About DHHS Data Breach; Conn. Home Care Workers Adopt New Electronic System

Outlets report on health news from New Hampshire, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Georgia, New Mexico, Texas, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Arizona.

New Hampshire Public Radio: Cyber-Security Consultant Will Check Network At DHHS Following Breach
Governor Maggie Hassan says a cyber-security consultant will evaluate the Department of Health and Human Services’ computer network following a data breach that compromised personal information for as many as 15,000 DHHS clients. ... The breach occurred in the fall of 2015 when a patient at the state-run psychiatric hospital in Concord used a computer in the hospital library to access confidential personal data of HHS clients. (Moon, 12/28)

New Hampshire Union Leader: HHS: No Hacker Skills Were Required For Data Breach 
The data breach that compromised 15,000 patient records in the Department of Health and Human Services did not require any special computer skills on the part of the patient suspected of the breach. The information was readily accessible on computers used by patients at the state’s psychiatric hospital... State officials revealed on Tuesday that some of the personal information from DHHS internal files had been posted on social media, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers and Medicaid identification numbers. (Solomon, 12/28)

CT Mirror: Home Care Agencies Warn New System Could Cause Major Problems
Starting Jan. 1, the state will begin requiring home care workers to use a new electronic system for reporting the time they spend caring for clients covered by certain Medicaid programs – a change forecast to save the state millions of dollars. But home care providers say the rollout could be plagued with problems, including leaving agencies unable to pay their workers if glitches delay claims processing and payments. And one major home care agency says it will refuse to use the new system despite the requirement – and could stop serving more than 1,500 Medicaid clients if the state takes issue with its approach. (Levin Becker, 12/30)

Health News Florida: Expanded Prescribing Powers For PAs, NPs Started Jan. 1
Starting with the new year, physicians assistants and nurse practitioners will be allowed to prescribe medications without a doctor's oversight. Florida has long been a hold out for expanded prescribing powers for these medical providers. But Gov. Rick Scott signed new legislation this summer that changed that. (Miller, 12/30)

Boston Globe: Mass. Physicians Open Debate On End-Of-Life Options
The vote before the Massachusetts Medical Society was whether to approve a survey — just a survey — of members’ attitudes toward “medical aid in dying.” But the discussion last month launched dozens of doctors into a broader emotional debate over end-of-life decisions for their patients. ... In the end, the policy-making body decisively endorsed the survey and approved $25,000 to fund it — a sign that the Massachusetts Medical Society may be reconsidering its historic rejection of what it has called “physician-assisted suicide.’’ (Wen, 1/3)

Nashville Tennessean: Centerstone Takes Comprehensive Approach To Health Care
More than 500 people were part of five-year pilot in Nashville funded by a federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant. Centerstone just ended the first year of a similar program in Clarksville, where some patients showing progress within months of launch, which often takes at least a year or more. A group of 60 people had lost 400 pounds in the first six months, said Mandi Ryan, head of Centerstone’s health homes in Tennessee. WellConnect rolled out these health home services at all of its 19 Tennessee sites in December. It will continue integration efforts through TennCare’s Health Link program that promotes health homes that provide both physical and behavioral health. Mental and physical health is linked. Yet, the health care system treats the issues separately. (Fletcher, 12/30)

Georgia Health News: Bridging The Data Divide: Project Aims To Revolutionize Reporting Of Diseases
At first, Richard Paskach was a bit skeptical. Earlier this year, the health care executive with Minneapolis-based HealthPartners heard an explanation of an ambitious new project. But he believed that it could have trouble achieving its central goal: connecting medical providers with a varied landscape of public health entities. Now, though, he sees the possibilities of the Digital Bridge, which aims to employ electronic health records to increase the accuracy, effectiveness and speed of reporting cases of infectious diseases — such as HIV, TB and measles — to public health agencies. (Miller, 1/1)

The Associated Press: Rural New Mexico Exports Mentoring Model For Physicians
[Dr. Leslie] Hayes and her colleagues treat more than 200 patients for drug-use disorders involving heroin and prescription opioid pain medication at a rural clinic in New Mexico's Espanola Valley, where rates of opioid addiction and mortality are among the nation's highest. Hayes' ability to effectively treat opioid addiction with the medication buprenorphine, which blocks cravings and withdrawal symptoms, would not be possible without years of regular videoconferences with specialists at a major medical center in Albuquerque under a program known as Project ECHO. (Lee, 12/31)

The Associated Press: Texas Judge Takes Specialized Court For Veterans On The Road
[Richard] Ress [who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder] was flagged for a program that aims to divert certain veterans facing criminal charges into treatment programs instead of sending them through the criminal court system. And rather than requiring veterans to travel to court appearances, this court travels to reach them in five counties near Dallas. Judge John Roach Jr. said the court is a first of its kind, and he hopes it will be replicated in other rural areas without public transportation, where getting to hearings can be a challenge. (Lauer, 12/31)

KQED: Will California’s New “Right To Try” Law Empower Or Exploit Patients?
With the enactment of a new “Right to Try” law, California joins 31 other states that have already passed legislation to support patients’ efforts to access experimental drugs. As of January 1, state agencies and licensing boards will not penalize California doctors or hospitals that want to help patients directly petition pharmaceutical companies for the investigational drugs. (Feibel, 1/2)

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Philly Study Finds House Calls Could Help Asthma Patients Living In Poverty
If they went to patients' homes, as community health workers in [Tyra] Bryant-Stephens' program have been doing for 18 years,  they might find them full of possible asthma triggers. They also might learn about the stresses that make it hard for their patients to take their medicines properly. Bryant-Stephens worked with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania to discover  what community health workers saw when they visited adult asthma patients in their low-income Philadelphia neighborhoods.  Community health workers are lay workers who are trained to help patients with health problems.  They are often from the same areas as the patients they serve. (Burling, 1/1)

The Baltimore Sun: Drones Could Soon Get Crucial Medical Supplies To Patients In Need 
Aerial drones could one day ferry life-or-death medical supplies between hospitals now that Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers have figured out how to keep blood, medications and vaccines consistently cool during the flights. Interest in the use of drones has surged in recent years as companies, including retail giant Amazon, explore the use of the unmanned aircraft to efficiently and cheaply transport goods above traffic, through bad weather or to otherwise inaccessible or remote areas. (Cohn, 1/1)

Boston Globe: Trial Set To Start For Pharmacy Owner In Deadly Meningitis Outbreak
The central allegations in this case involve the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, and its nationwide recall of the compounded drug preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate in fall 2012. The government alleges that certain vials of methylprednisolone acetate, among other drugs sold by NECC, became contaminated because NECC failed to follow industry standards for compounding sterile injectable drugs. (Valencia, 1/3)

Arizona Republic: Metro Phoenix Doctor Indicted In $100 Million Tricare Fraud Case
A Valley physician is among a dozen doctors, pharmacy owners and marketing pros accused of a kickback scheme that prosecutors allege involved a sham medical study used to bilk up to $102 million from the publicly-funded federal health program for military family members. Walter Neil Simmons, 47, of Gilbert, an emergency medicine doctor who has worked at two metro Phoenix hospital chains, was indicted in October in U.S. District Court in Dallas on one count of conspiracy to commit health-care fraud. (Alltucker, 1/1)

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