KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Utah Tries To Improve State Health Insurance Exchange; Mich. Plans For Doctor Shortage

The Salt Lake Tribune: "State health reform got a boost Tuesday with House passage of a fix-it bill to improve the Utah Health Exchange, an online tool for purchasing health insurance. Pitched as a free-market approach to lowering costs for small businesses, the exchange has had limited success. Only 400 people are receiving health insurance in its experimental first stage. And some of its 66 plans are up to 130 percent more expensive than what some companies were already paying. That's because insurers are calculating premiums differently 'inside' and 'outside' the exchange, said House Speaker Dave Clark" (Stewart, 2/16).

The San Francisco Chronicle: A bill being advanced by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would make purchasing syringes easier. The measure "builds on a similar law, a pilot program approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 that is set to expire at the end of this year. But unlike the existing legislation, which requires the approval from local governments, Yee's bill would allow any pharmacist to sell sterile syringes without a prescription." The measure's backers say allowing syringes to be purchased without a prescription "would reduce rates of HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases that can live in a used syringe. ... The current pilot program allows an adult to buy 10 syringes in one pharmacy visit. Yee's legislation would increase the number of syringes to 30" (Colliver, 2/17).

The Chicago Tribune: "Iowa likely won't be the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana any time soon, but there has been plenty of talk about the idea with two bills in the Legislature and a possible recommendation on legalization Wednesday by the state pharmacy board. Although both legislative measures are considered dead for the session, backers said support is growing and some expect the Iowa Board of Pharmacy to add to the momentum when it discusses the issue and considers recommending whether marijuana should be allowed for medical use" (Hottle, 2/17).

The Detroit Free Press: "With a statewide shortage of primary care doctors, particularly in urban areas such as Detroit, Michigan needs more physicians. About 47% of Michigan's 40,000 licensed doctors say they plan to retire within 10 years. The problem is greatest in rural and urban areas with greater numbers of lower-paying Medicaid and uninsured patients who have lost jobs and workplace health insurance. Michigan has launched a program that offers grants to primary care doctors who work in shortage areas, and help to repay medical school loans. Michigan also hopes to tap into federal incentives to improve doctor practices, and to coordinate and improve care by assigning each uninsured patient to a single doctor" (Anstett, 2/16).

Kansas Health Institute: "Premiums for medical malpractice insurance will likely double for most doctors and hospitals, members of the Kansas Health Policy Authority board were told Tuesday, if the Kansas Supreme Court overturns a long standing cap on the amount of damages malpractice victims can collect as the result of a lawsuit. Jerry Slaughter, executive director of the Kansas Medical Society, told the board that Kansas medical providers are anxiously awaiting the ruling that will come in the case of Miller v Johnson. ... Under current Kansas law malpractice victims can be awarded no more than $250,000 for pain and suffering as a result of a medical provider's mistake. But Slaughter said the court is likely to overturn that" (Shields, 2/16).

Health News Florida, on overbilling in Florida: "Brevard County's largest medical group and the U.S. Justice Department are close to settling the investigation of a complaint that the group's cancer center overbilled Medicare by more than $8 million, attorneys for both sides say. The whistleblower complaint said Melbourne Internal Medicine Associates (MIMA) used a super-expensive radiation treatment not only in cases where it was appropriate, but also on hundreds of patients who could have done fine with traditional therapy." An attorney for the medical director of the doctors group said "his client never intended to defraud the government" and "was convinced his patients needed" the radiation treatment  (Washam, 2/16). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.